Though the laws are clear, employers in competitive, creative fields have ignored them. As the ranks of the unemployed have swelled and the surplus of jobless college students and grads has grown, increasing numbers of people young and old have been signing on for unpaid internships, wanting to make contacts and accumulate résumé lines that can help them get paying work. No one tracks the total number of interns in the U.S. but Robert Shindell, a vice president at Intern Bridge, a consulting firm, says that more than a million American students a year do internships. Roughly a fifth of those positions pay zero and offer no course credit.
In 2010, The New York Times reported that federal and state labor officials wanted to crack down on illegal internships. But plaintiffs were afraid to bring suit because they didn’t want to be known as troublemakers.
Since then the scene has shifted. Plaintiffs have filed at least six intern suits in the last two years claiming they were cheated out of wages, including a class action filed yesterday against Condé Nast by two former interns, one at W Magazine and the other at The New Yorker. Outten & Golden, the same plaintiff-side law firm that filed the Fox Searchlight case, is bringing the suit. It claims that the W intern, Lauren Ballinger, packed and unpacked accessories, ran errands and filled out insurance forms and was paid just $12 a day. The New Yorker intern worked three days a week reviewing submissions, responding to readers’ emails, proofreading, line editing and working on the online cartoon database. He got paid $300 to $500 for each summer he worked there. In other words, both got paid far less than minimum wage for jobs the magazines would have had to pay someone else a full salary to do. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor