SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

June 15, 2013

Unpaid Internships, new ruling

Court ruling

Ruling may affect unpaid internships

By Sam Hananel ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — Unpaid internships have long been a path of opportunity for students and recent grads looking to get a foot in the door in entertainment, publishing and other prominent industries, even if it takes a generous subsidy from Mom and Dad.

ALEX BRANDON ASSOCIATED PRESS    Eric Glatt, a Black Swan intern, sued Fox Searchlight Pictures for not paying interns.

But those days of working for free could be numbered after a federal judge in New York ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum-wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie Black Swan.

The decision by U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III might lead some companies to rethink whether it’s worth the legal risk to hire interns to work without pay. For many young people struggling to find jobs in a tough economy, unpaid internships have become a rite of passage essential for padding resumes and gaining practical experience.

“I’m sure this is causing a lot of discussions to be held in human-resource offices and internship programs across the country,” said David Yamada, professor of law at Suffolk University in Boston.

There are up to 1 million unpaid internships offered in the United States every year, said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning research group. He said the number of internships has grown as the economy tumbled, and he blames them for exploiting young workers and driving down wages.

  • “The return on a college investment has fallen, students are facing higher and higher debt burdens, and the reaction of employers is to make matters worse for them by hiring more and more people without paying them,” Eisenbrey said.
  • In the ruling, Pauley said Fox should have paid the two interns who filed the lawsuit because they did the same work as regular employees, provided value to the company and performed low-level tasks that didn’t require any specialized training.

The interns, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, performed basic administrative work such as organizing filing cabinets, tracking purchase orders, making copies, drafting cover letters and running errands.

“Undoubtedly Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman received some benefits from their internships, such as resume listings, job references and an understanding of how a production office works,” Pauley wrote. “But those benefits were incidental to working in the office like any other employees and were not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them.”

Chris Petrikin, a spokesman for 20th Century Fox, said the company plans to appeal.

(My Comment:

 There should be much approval in the land over this ruling.  It has gone on much too long.   The rules have always been there, but largely ignored – – so much so that people actually thought this was all   ‘just the way it was’!  Well, Judge Pauley has laid it out and I daresay, there will probably much more activity to follow. 

This program is clear in specifics,  there must be  benefit which has been structured  precisely for the intern.  In this case, the interns were doing ordinary work that all the employees do. . . . therefore, they must be paid in the same manner as all employees are paid.  That the program has been growing in abuse at a time when jobs are scarce, money is tight and student loan indebtedness is high, is a clear abuse of the system.  Finally, someone with the courage to take action.  Jan)

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