Should Interns Get Paid?


Imagine working on the crew of a big movie production—all the glitz, all the glamour, but not the big paycheck. Actually, no paycheck at all. And maybe not so much of the glamour. That’s because you’re an intern, and you don’t get paid a dime—like most interns everywhere. 

You thought you were signing up for an educational experience, but all it turned out to be was grunt work. And now, a Federal District Judge has determined that you should have been paid.

This is exactly what happened for a couple of interns who worked on the movie “Black Swan.”

Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, production interns on “Black Swan,” sued Fox Searchlight in September 2011. In the suit, Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman said they did basic chores, usually undertaken by paid employees. Like their counterparts in other industries, the interns took lunch orders, answered phones, arranged other employees’ travel plans, tracked purchase orders, took out the trash and assembled office furniture.

A judge ordered Tuesday that Fox Searchlight Pictures had violated federal and New York minimum wage laws by not paying interns for their work. The decision could change the film industry’s use of unpaid internships, and it could affect the practice of other businesses as well.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Mr. Glatt, who has an M.B.A. from Case Western Reserve University. “I hope that this sends a very loud and clear message to employers and to students doing these internships, and to the colleges that are cooperating in creating this large pool of free labor — for most for-profit employers, this is illegal. It shouldn’t be up to the least powerful person in the arrangement to have to bring a lawsuit to stop this.”

The judge ordered that Fox Searchlight should have to pay the two interns because they were essentially regular employees.

The judge noted that these internships did not foster an educational environment and that the studio received the benefits of the work. The case could have broad implications. Young people have flocked to internships, especially against the backdrop of a weak job market.

Undergraduates work more than one million internships a year—half of which are unpaid.

“Employers have already started to take a hard look at their internship programs,” said Rachel Bien, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “I think this decision will go far to discourage private companies from having unpaid internship programs.”

Some say the decision would cause companies to hire fewer interns and thus hamper college graduates from getting helpful experience. Others say it’s a good decision because unpaid internships foster favoritism. Kids who can live off their parents can afford to take an unpaid internship while others have to work for a living.

What do you think? Should interns be paid, or should the “experience of the job” be payment enough?

There are 60 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Profile Photo Inactive

    I hate with every fibre of my being the concept of unpaid work in a for-profit organisation. But just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean that it should be prohibited.

    This one comes down to an issue of whether the work was misrepresented. If the plaintiffs undertook the work in the reasonable (especially if stated or implied by the respondent)  expectation of training and useful experience, then I can see their action and the judge’s decision as being a just correction of a wrong. If Fox Searchlight made clear what their duties would entail beforehand, then the company would be the wronged party here.

    But how much is this due to workplace regulation?

    With minimum wage laws, you can’t have a super low paid trial period that might suit everyone. It’s either full pay or nothing, and now ‘nothing’ is being prohibited.

    Radical deregulation of labour markets would be the best solution.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Inactive

    According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Walling v. Portland Terminal, and as the law currently stands, here are the six legal conditions considered by the court for an unpaid internship (from Forbes):

    “1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.

    2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.

    3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.

    4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.

    5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.

    6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.”

    An employer should be able to pay an intern nothing. If he/she has the ability and ample means to pay but doesn’t, then he/she is probably a nasty Scrouge, and the market rate of $0 doesn’t change that.

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Member

    So long as both parties enter the arrangement voluntarily, it’s perfectly fine. No need to add a third party, gov’t, into the mix. Conservatism 101.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Member

    I totally agree with the ruling.

    I’m in show-biz myself and nowhere do more people work harder for less money than starting out in that field. I’ve seen it all my life. There is rampant exploitation of young actors’ ambitions. While these are not intern programs per se, and there may be no other way for a young actor to gain experience than working for free, I’ve seen people make real profits off of these people and blatantly brag that they have free employees as a business model. When the actors do get good, they will not hire them for the going rate. This may be psychological – you worked for free for years why should I pay you so much now?  they have to go elsewhere and compete with other free actors – many of whom are quite good, themselves on the verge of being able to make money in the field. There is a union but once in the union there is a lot of paid work you have to turn down.

    So I know well both sides. People need experience, but internships are being brazenly exploited for purposes of profit. 

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Member

    I think it should be the intern, or prospective intern, who decides if the experience of the job, and the chance to make connections and show that he (she) is hardworking, reliable and good with people, is payment enough. Obviously, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Internships in which interns do only menial work, and are kept away from anyone except each other, will get a reputation for being a waste of time (I would think).

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Inactive

    Ugh.  People are dumb.

    They do get paid.

    Cash isn’t the only form of payment.

    They get paid in experience.  They get paid in connections.  They get paid in status.  They get paid in resume enhancement.  If it was so horrible, people would refuse to do it.

    Ending unpaid internships is like a minimum wage.  You’ll see all those unpaid interns who will now get paid.  Wonderful.

    What you won’t see is the people who never get the experience because nobody takes them on as interns.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    If they are  not being trained then they should be paid a wage. The industry specific experience and knowledge is the wage otherwise.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Member

    I roll my eyes about some of these “internships” not being the semi-educational experience they’re portrayed as.

    But if it were represented fairly, there’s no reason any government should stick its nose into the terms of a contract.  If these people knew it was unpaid when they applied for and accepted the internship, and it’s dishonest for them to complain about it later and sue.  

    While we’re at it, it’s time for minimum wage laws to die.  Especially Federal (absolutely no Constitutional justification for them at that level!), but even state and local minimum wage laws.  Some jobs are simply worth less than the minimum rate, and we’re not going to wind up with miserable orphans getting their hands mangled in the steam-powered looms if we scrap the wage laws.  (Or, wait…was that my justification for ending the child labor laws?  Either way.)

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Inactive
    Fred Cole: They get paid in experience.  They get paid in connections.  They get paid in status.  They get paid in resume enhancement.

    There is something to this, but I don’t know if uncompensated menial labor as an entry barrier to the actual workforce fits well with truly free markets. Yes, they get something out of it, the arrangement is specifically for training, not resume enhancement.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Inactive
    The King Prawn

    Fred Cole: They get paid in experience.  They get paid in connections.  They get paid in status.  They get paid in resume enhancement.

    There is something to this, but I don’t know if uncompensated menial labor as an entry barrier to the actual workforce fits well with truly free markets. Yes, they get something out of it, the arrangement is specifically for training, not resume enhancement. · 4 minutes ago

    Depends on the internship.

    But its mostly about experience and contacts.

    Not for nothing, but why the hell else would people do it?

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Listener

    One should pay interns, but aren’t the minimum wage laws the very things that keep prospective interns from getting job experience?

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Inactive

    Again the progressive idea of minimum wage laws and now Obamacare comes to bite these young skulls full of mush in the tush. Because this country has increased the cost of labor, employers will use unpaid interns to lower labor costs, but the interns are also able to gain work experience and connections that they can now use to get a paying job. This lawsuit has now further hampered the unskilled worker from getting a job. 

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Member
    Fred Cole: Ugh.  People are dumb.

    Theydoget paid.

    Cash isn’t the only form of payment.

    They get paid in experience.  They get paid in connections.  They get paid in status.  They get paid in resume enhancement.  If it was so horrible, people would refuse to do it.

    Ending unpaid internships is like a minimum wage.  You’ll see all those unpaid interns who will now get paid.  Wonderful.

    What you won’t see is the people who never get the experience because nobody takes them on as interns. · 13 minutes ago

    Exactly. Once we accept that they “should be paid”, then we’ve accepted the minimum wage argument.

    And what’s “getting paid” mean precisely? Is it one penny per hour? Well, that can’t be right. How about one dollar? $7.50? And so here we are, literally advocating a minimum wage.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member

    This case is about the experience not being represented fairly. I’m all for the ability for people to freely enter contracts and for the abolishment of the minimum wage. I bet these interns will never be hired on another movie set again, so it works both ways.

    Certainly this is a result of various forces interacting badly. Lets take the movie biz. Strong unions keep prices and practices of some things very high. You won’t see any interns in a union job, will you? Coffee fetchers and janitors aren’t unionized, yet they cost money. Entry level jobs are few and there is a glut of people wishing to break into the movie business. Education – even expensive education,  doesn’t match or provide real skills needed for certain jobs, while internships provide at least some degree of resume enhancement, ripe for exaggeration. “You worked on Black Swan? Impressive” Providing more layers of artifice and deceit.

     Profits are made by cutting costs.

    Result: interns empty trash, learn nothing and can only hope they can lie their way into a paying job. This doesn’t help anyone but the firm who used them.

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Inactive

    Who here has taken an unpaid internship?

    I’ve taken one with a government agency. It was traditionally paid, but they went through a budget cut and intern wages were the first thing to go. Fortunately, I had a grant that allowed me to live in DC and take the job. The only other kids that were able to take the internship were:

    1) Rich kids, bankrolled by their parents, and

    2) Not rich kids, bankrolled by even more student loans.

    We all knew the job wouldn’t lead to a full time job (the other cuts included a hiring freeze, but not a salary freeze- I mean, these are public servants), but the experience was still a gamble. We would learn skills, but would have idea if they’d be marketable.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Inactive

    They interned in the wrong industry.  My engineering internships paid a higher hourly wage than when I worked in a unionized factory.


    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Coolidge

    If you don’t like the job don’t take it or quit and get a new one. Not sure why this is so hard or why the government needs to be involved.

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Member

    The problem is not that they are not paid but the apprentices should pay the companies, even if just a token fee. The experience is then really valued. One of the first things I was taught was charge even $1 for a Parks & Rec activity and people will appreciate it more, and actually show up. Think they teach that now?

    Our company (not Parks) had people begging us to take them on as apprentices, and they would pay. When we first started out we planned to do this, even to roughing in a couple of small apartments where they could stay for free. That idea was given up a long time ago as too much trouble bureaucratically which lead to too expensive. I will add that while training these people adds to competition in our market, it also would give us trained employees and the aura of ‘being the experts’- plus we just thought it would be fun.

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Coolidge

    Steven Spielberg got his start in Hollywood by asking family friends for studio tours, finding any excuse he could find to spend time on the lot, and working unpaid internships. He knew what he wanted to do, and all he wanted was a chance to do it. I doubt he cared, at that point, whether anyone was willing to pay him. He wasn’t doing glamorous stuff at the beginning, but he didn’t care.

    More to the point, if the only way for him to get that early experience had been getting hired, I doubt it would have happened. Why would any studio have hired a teenage kid with no real experience?

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Inactive

    Do I think they should be paid? Yes. Should the government force them to? No.

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Member

    This kind of thinking hurts people starting out in other ways, perhaps especially in the arts. Before photography & publishing became so easy we advertised at the University for photographers to take pictures that would be in our ads, a calendar, etc. No pay, but the ability to add this to their portfolio. You know, that they actually were published by a real, well known brand. I will add that our products are very pretty and photogenic. We considered the possibility that we wouldn’t like what they did, and decided to pay them if we didn’t use any of them.

    No takers, and when I followed up found that the teachers at the U didn’t even bother to mention it. I think this was another lost opportunity.

    It’s not the payment or no payment, it’s what the apprentice does with the experience. It’s tough out there and always has been.

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Inactive

    I call this phenomenon the logical extension of the fact that the world today more and more has the mentality of the stereotypical 12 year old girl. She does not understand a lot about life and reality, but through inadequate parenting, she feels entitled to shout: “That’s not Fair!”The two young men who brought this suit have the mentality of 12 year old girls; and should be embarrassed. But they will not be. I am a lawyer, among other things, but I swear, that law school seems to entitle a lot of idiots ( from the Greek: one who lives and acts as if they are in their own world ) to feel privileged to speak in a complicated way about what is not complicated. The principles for this case are: 1 . Mind your own business; and 2. If you freely entered into an arrangement and there was no gun to your head, Don’t Complain.

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    What do you think? Should interns be paid, or should the “experience of the job” be payment enough? · · 3 hours ago

    They should be paid– any amount that they agree with their employer is fair.  That should be an option for everyone, rather than discriminating against those jobs where learning on the job is not worth paying you minimum wage.

    Remove the unfair advantage of some groups being able to make “intern” positions that serve the same purpose that very lowly paid test jobs use to, and I don’t care if they’re paying the interns.  The rules should be equally applied, and shouldn’t discriminate against the lowly skilled.

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Member

    It comes down to this: If companies are forced to pay there will be a lot fewer internships as then they are called employees. Who really loses?

    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Member

    The issue is breech of contract, an unmet agreed-upon quid pro quo.  A real internship is not uncompensated.  It sounds as though the employer just took on a couple of unpaid gophers.  Not that gophering couldn’t be part of a real internship.

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member

    One of my grandsons who will start medical school in the fall, wants to be an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and has for some years. This past winter while practicing hockey he caught a puck with his front teeth.  He spent about 4-5 hours in surgery while the doctors picked broken teeth and splintered bone out of his mouth. They did an excellent job of reconstruction, but bone needs to regrow before he is ready for implants. When the surgeons found out he was on his way to med school to be an oral surgeon he was offered a paid internship when he finishes his formal schooling. Of course, this wasn’t the best way of getting experience while you learn, or.. maybe it was. However, I don’t think they will use him to mop floors and empty waste baskets. 

    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Inactive

    I don’t like the government intervention here even if the scene is rather stupid.

    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Thatcher
    mask: Do I think they should be paid? Yes. Should the government force them to? No. · 48 minutes ago

    I think that’s the best summary here.

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Member

    They knew they weren’t going to get paid before they started, right? 

    Why wasn’t the lawsuit laughed out of court the day it was filed?

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Member

    On the policy implications and the facts of the case, I have no comment.

    On the general principle, and on the first read, it seems probably these kids missed the point of the internship.  Yes, you’re doing odd jobs -just like people in other industries.  Those odd jobs put you in the room when things happen so you can see them.

    I interned on Capitol Hill -unpaid.  Yes, I delivered coffee.  To the caucus meetings, where I got to watch the backroom dealing.  I took lunch orders.  For the whip meetings, where I got to watch the Leadership plan legislative strategies.  Yes, I carried stuff from the Capitol to the Office Buildings, so I saw how the offices coordinate (or don’t, as the case may be).  I carried stuff to the car, where I learned how Members travel (hint: they bring a lot of books and papers).  I did scheduling -the details of which I’ve pretty much forgotten, but I recall a lot of fundraising and a lot of “informational meetings” (ie: Lobbying).

    The internship put me in a position to observe this.  It also gave me access to staff who could explain it.  Fair Trade.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.