October 10, 2013
Imagine a day in the life of an intern.
The alarm goes off much earlier than you would like. You didn’t get to do anything fun last night since you had to wake up early and get ready, and you’re losing money as the miles accumulate on the odometer. Then you arrive.
All day, you get coffee for someone in the office and suffer through other mindless errands, doing the work no one else wants to do and never so much as hearing a thank you for your trouble.
Then, you take work home with you, even though it’s not in your job description. Because that’s what they demand. Our greatest asset to a company is that we’re cheap and convenient.
But hey, this is our ticket to the real world, right?
Internship culture is rapidly developing as a competitive, cutthroat lifestyle. Students across the country are fighting for them. Parents, professors and guidance counselors all tell us that having an internship is crucial to a successful future.
The fear of being jobless after graduation gets drilled into the backs of our minds, so we proceed to accept jobs no one wants to do for little to no pay.
I was an intern myself. I have as many horror stories as anyone else who’s tried to get “real world” experience. I was the lowest person on the totem pole, often invisible and undervalued.
In experiencing the disappointment of working above and beyond for no pay or compensation at all, I firmly believe that interns should be paid.
People seem to believe it is necessary to have an internship in order to be a competitive member of society, but that is a relatively new phenomenon, as is the increased workload.
Someone somewhere decided that students needed to do more than just go to a prestigious college and work ourselves to our breaking points to get good grades — we have to intern, too.
Now, as students, we blindly accept that fact, but at the end of the day, the company is hiring you, not your résumé. It’s not guaranteed that we will get a job in the future, but neither is it impossible. Even if we don’t sell out for an internship now.
Perhaps it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Maybe the internship culture exists because we allow it to. The courts are starting to agree that too much is asked of us.
In June, a federal district court in New York ruled that Fox Searchlight violated federal minimum wage laws by refusing to pay interns who worked on the production of the Academy Award-winning movie “Black Swan.”
This is the first instance of a judge declaring positively that employers cannot legally ask people to do legitimate work — especially the same work employees are getting paid for — solely for the purpose of an “educational benefit” or “learning experience.”
Currently, stipulations are being devised that provide a list of employer requirements to determine whether or not an internship can be unpaid. These include that the internship must be conducted in a way similar to that of an educational environment, the internship is for the benefit of the intern not the employer who trains them and the intern doesn’t take the place of a regular employee.
Spearheaded by the Department of Labor, the rules being devised will hopefully make it impossible for companies to exploit interns into doing the work that belongs to paid employees.
This judgment and those new rules mark a tipping point in our favor, and could change the future for interns everywhere. The internship culture may still exist, but it will become what it was always meant to be — an education.
Paid internships are a different story, but this is fast becoming more the exception than the rule. And while there are intangible benefits to having an internship — in terms of learning, making connections and gaining experience — those don’t pay the rent.
It is unfair to expect people to work without pay solely based on the fact that they are desperate for a job. It should be a mutual experience, with benefits for both parties. As young people trying to make a place for ourselves in the world, we need to know our value. It’s vital that we know exactly how much we’re worth, what we deserve and how to be true to ourselves. Otherwise, if we accept less than we should, we will always get less.
This should apply to unpaid internships. Why do we compete to do free labor when we know we deserve to be paid for our hard work?
We aren’t doing less than those who are paid. Interns are essentially doing the dirty work for free, without hesitation. So long as we settle for doing our best without reaping benefits, that is where we will stay.
Alexandra Armas is a senior communication major.