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Unpaid internships, though valuable, may be illegal

Unpaid internships, though valuable, may be illegal

Ramsey Kincannon

News Editor


With how competitive the job field has gotten, especially during what some experts call “The Great Recession,” more and more college students have felt pressure to apply for internships over the summers in order to beef up their resumes. At Stanford University, there were 643 posted internships in 2010, which is more than triple the amount of just two years prior.

At The College of Wooster, Lisa Kaster, a member of Career Services, suggests that there hasn’t been much of a difference between the number of Wooster students that take internships, but said that since “the media has heightened what they’re talking about,” more students “are paying attention” to the number of internships available.

The problem is, though, many of these companies might have violated federal rules on internships. The Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1947, states that unpaid interns must provide: 1) training that benefits the trainees, 2) training that is “similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction,” and 3) training that occurs under a regular employee (USA Today).

Most of the time, people have been unwilling to report that an internship isn’t run well or doesn’t prepare them enough for the “real world” because of the fact that these interns don’t want to burn the few professional connections they make. However, Alex Footman, an intern for the movie “Black Swan,” is now part of a class action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures, which produced the film.  Footman and Eric Glatt, another intern, are suing to win back pay for the hours they worked on a film which grossed $300 million and also won several Academy Awards. They both allege that they did the same work as other paid employees, whether it be filing, errand-running, or accounting.  Their lawsuit is the first one of its type in over a decade.

“Internships have become an almost essential first step on the career ladder,” according to Phil Gardner, who is the director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State. Kaster agrees, seeing them “as essential pieces of your education, [by] integrating the theory with the practice out there.”

One way companies often sidestep paying their interns is by offering them college credit for their internships.  However, transferring credit into school is often expensive. Kaster suggests that if an organization is that willing to take on an intern that participates in the internship for academic credit, “they’re more invested [in the student’s internship experience].”  In order to do so, there is a contract between the school, the company and the student that needs to be satisfied. “If a company is willing to do that, it’s fantastic,” Kaster said.  She also recommends using reliable sources for internship information like the Liberal Arts Career Network, which posts thousands of internships annually.  NeoIntern, another resource, focuses specifically on the northeastern Ohio area.

Whether or not the lawsuit gets resolved in time for this summer’s batch of interns, it is clear that the focus on summer occupations has only intensified.


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