The more news there has been about this, the more it’s on my mind. Here’s what my mind is saying:
Unpaid internships are exploitative, but “exploitative” is almost a euphemism. What we’re talking about here is serf labor, and offering such labor to people who, in a serious recession, are desperate to work is unethical, inhumane corporate sociopathy. (Yes, I know: that’s reiterative.)
Any profit-making company should and must pay all their employees, no matter what the job title or the term of the job. Internship, summer employment, doesn’t matter. You hire them, you pay them. That’s it.
The only employer who might be able to justify not paying employees is a poor non-profit. But I am reluctant to let non-profits off the hook. Non-profits should be paying at least the minimum wage. If they can’t, call free workers what they are: volunteers.
I’m thinking there should be a law governing this nonsense. If a company wants to offer low-pay or no-pay internships, it should have to file its previous year’s taxes with the Department of Labor as proof that it doesn’t bring in enough money to pay real wages to interns.
But if, as in the notable case of Fox Searchlight Pictures, it makes a large profit, it must pay all its workers, even its interns.
Otherwise, what are companies offering to interns? A recommendation letter? A line on their résumés? “Education?”
P.S. Boy, I must be really furious at that rotten Second Circuit panel decision. A few paragraphs from the Times’s article about it:
Writing for a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Judge John M. Walker Jr. held that the Labor Department’s criteria were both out of date and not binding on federal courts.
He argued that the proper way to determine workers’ status was to apply a “primary beneficiary test” — a concept proposed by Fox [*] in which the worker can be considered an employee only if the employer benefits more from the relationship than the intern.
Judge Walker wrote that he and his fellow judges on the panel “agree with defendants [*] that the proper question is whether the intern or the employer is the primary beneficiary of the relationship.”
Years ago, a lawyer friend told me that Judge Walker’s last name indicates a family relationship to George Hubert Walker Bush. If I remember correctly, Judge Walker is Bush’s cousin.
* Along with Fox News, Fox Searchlight Pictures is part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire. What kind of useful “education” could a Rupert Murdoch company be offering to anyone? Judge Walker has demonstrated what side of the political divide he sits on.