Powerful “Upworthy” Cartoon Exposes Awfulness of Unpaid Internships

Back in 1992, only 17% of college graduates took an unpaid internship. That percentage has nearly tripled — today, it’s around 50%. Meanwhile, companies justify unpaid internships as “just the way things are” and “a great way for young people to get experience.” But more and more people are rebelling against the practice of unpaid internships, calling it illegal, and filing lawsuits to get it to stop.

As this blog (and many other sources) reported, last year, unpaid interns at Fox Studios sued the big production company for making them work jobs without actually paying them.

The United States has minimum wage laws for a reason — to protect workers from exploitation, even if they might consent to such practices. A powerful new cartoon published on the site Upworthy exposes the astonishing hypocrisies at work in the unpaid internship industry. The cartoonist hopes to inspire people to crack down on this preposterous practice and compel employers to pay young workers for their time and service.

The cartoon [will link to cartoon] makes the following trenchant points:

• “The popular link-bait site, Huffington Post… even auctioned off an unpaid internship for charity. $13,000 for the pleasure of fetching a millionaire’s coffee without compensation.”
• “Millennials have had billions of dollars in wealth stolen from them while career paths have been shut off for the less fortunate. You can’t get a foot in the door when it’s shut on your face.”
• 26-year-old Rashida Salaam just filed a class action suit against Bad Boy Entertainment [P Diddy’s company]: “It’s surprising that [P. Diddy] couldn’t afford to pay Salaam, who says that she was used more like a personal assistant to run errands, answer phones, and book trips. You know, work.”
• “Salaam joined a growing number of cases being brought against employers like Harper’s, The Charlie Rose Show, and Gawker Media, who have stretched the word ‘intern’ to the outer bounds of legality. But they are still quite popular, especially among the rich and clueless.”
• Unfortunately, even lawmakers have gotten in on the racket. As cartoonist Matt Bors points out: “Congress exempts itself from the Fair Labor Standards Act under the Congressional Accountability Act, which they apparently passed on Opposite Day… [Even] working man Senators like Harry Reid exploit a new crop of young people every summer.”

The team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum fights hard every day to ensure the rights and welfare of employees who either don’t know their rights or don’t how to protect themselves from employers who subject them to harassment, discrimination, tip pool violations, or other unfair and despicable practices. We would be happy to talk to you about your case in confidence. Please call at any time at (212) 688-5640.