Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Peonage, Hypocricy, all that Jazz

So the powers that be, including the Department of Labor of the great state of California, and the federal Department of Labor are cracking down on unpaid internships, the much sought after, but apparently often illegal peonage required to get any entry level job.

Why illegal? An unpaid intern must not do any work that a paid employee would do, must receive training and education equivalent to what they would receive in school, and must not provide any benefit to the employer. Can you think of any unpaid internships that meet these descriptions? Me neither

Do you know what annoys me about this all? Hypocricy. Take a squizz at some of the unpaid opportunities open to you, students:

The US Department of Justice. Pretty good at upholding the law, right? Maybe you want to intern for free in their Office of Public Affairs, and spend your time "assisting press officers with telephone calls from the national news media, gathering news-clips, assisting with interviews and press conferences, editing and issuing news releases on a variety of federal law enforcement topics" as well as "other duties as assigned" which, let me tell you, definitely means making photocopies. Awesome!

Maybe you'd rather do essentially the same job for the California Attorney General's office, the guys who kindly pointed out in the first place that these unpaid internships are a scam? Great!

The government isn't the only place that takes advantages of the career ambitions of young, vulnerable students. Congressional Quarterly is willing to not pay you to have you do their work, and in case you were wondering about the legal issues, they treat interns like "entry level reporters/ researchers," which is, you know, illegal.

Even the Gray Lady herself has legions of unpaid (although to be fair, some are paid) internships, and I have a feeling some of them are in a Gray area legally.

All this huffing and puffing is not to say that I approve of a system which makes it difficult for people who have to earn money over the summer  - anyone on financial aid, for example - to compete for jobs right out of college. What a mess!