Tag Archives: Work

Have an Intern You’re Not Paying? It’s Wage Theft.

Illustration of a Busy Intern. Image courtesy of Hollywood Esq.

When our economy began to tank sometime around 2007, and jobs became more and more scarce, there appeared an incredible spate of “internships.” I use those quotation marks because these “internships” – for all kinds of jobs, in both the corporate and non-profit sectors – were unpaid. I know many people, especially young people in their 20s, who took these internships because there were so few other, paying jobs. Even though our economy is doing better, this practice of non-paying internships continues.

Unless the internship is truly that – a position that is more about education, and that doesn’t take the place of “real” work or a “real” worker – not paying interns is wage theft, pure and simple. It shocks me that companies and organizations – especially ones who deem themselves “progressive” – could engage in such a sickening practice.

As a small business owner myself, I completely understand all of the stresses that come along with a bad economy, and keeping good staff and being able to pay them properly is a big concern. But even when we were in an economic crunch, we never, ever, had unpaid interns. I believe if you can’t afford to pay someone at least minimum wage – which in NY is now $8.75/hr – don’t hire interns. Simple.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for unpaid internships, which provide a true learning experience for the intern.

But that’s not what’s going on here.

What seems to be happening is that we are turning the workplace into some kind of neo-feudalistic society (That’s a phrase coined in our office by Senior Account Executive Sonya Landau.). Or, if you prefer, a form of indentured servitude; not quite slavery, but sure feels close.

It’s gotten so bad, that there have been lawsuits filed by interns and a website, Intern Justice, that’s maintained to keep track of them all.

One notable case was brought by two Fox Searchlight interns, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, who worked on the movie “Black Swan.” According to the website ProPubica, the judge in that case, William H. Pauley III ruled in favor of the interns on June 11, 2013, arguing that, “the interns had essentially completed the work of paid employees – organizing filing cabinets, making photocopies, taking lunch orders, answering phones – and derived little educational benefit from the program, one of the criteria for unpaid internships under federal law. Pauley also ruled that the plaintiffs were employees and thus protected by minimum wage laws.” The case was so significant that it was also noted by the WageTheft website, which does, indeed, consider non-payment of interns, in most cases, to be wage theft.

ProPublica has also provided a run-down of the legalities involved in hiring interns in a piece titled, “When Is It OK to Not Pay an Intern?”

Bottom line: most of what passes for unpaid internships these days are, in fact, illegal wage thefts. If you are doing this, then you are a thief. Stop it.

Is Consumerism Gobbling Up Thanksgiving?

It’s that time of year again, when folks try to figure out where they’ll go for Thanksgiving, who’ll make the turkey, and what football games will be watched.

No matter what you think about Thanksgiving or its origins (and, by the way, there are lots of “myths” about how Thanksgiving began, and Martin Kelly who writes for the American History section of About.com, does a good job of running down the history of the holiday), it’s a holiday to gather with family and friends, at least try to be thankful, eat lots of food and get a day off from work.

This year, however, our consumer culture seems to have gotten way out of hand with the announcement by many retailers that they will open on Thanksgiving Day with the promise of “super holiday sales,” and “just giving consumers what they want” with employees who are “excited” about working on Thanksgiving.  Really? Forget Black Friday;  we now have Black Thursday.

Not only does opening on Thanksgiving potentially change the meaning of the day from one of camaraderie and celebration to pure consumerism, but it also means that many people will have to work on one of the few days of the year when commerce – at least retail – comes to a blessed halt.

Of course, the true reason why some retailers want to open on Thanksgiving can be found in the numbers – the financial numbers, that is.

According to Rick Newman who writes for Yahoo’s financial blog, the Exchange, the numbers don’t lie:

In staying open over the Thanksgiving holiday, retailers are just giving customers what they want.

Yeah, right.

As the inevitable holiday shopping creep spreads to Thanksgiving Day, stores that plan to open on the holiday, including Kmart (SHLD), Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT) and Best Buy (BBY), say they’re merely responding to consumers who would be shopping online if they didn’t have the option to hit the stores. That’s part of it, no doubt, but an examination of retailers’ financial numbers reveals another reason: Many of them are underperforming, and desperate for every dollar of sales. And virtually all those stores will be open on Thanksgiving.

Newman shows us this chart that breaks down revenue growth and sales from some of the major retailers.  Pay special attention to the last column:

 

Retailers in green have seen profit and earnings grow; those in yellow have stayed level, and the ones in orange have seen a decrease.

But, as you can imagine, this particular manifestation of consumerism, at least for a large portion of Americans, has broken the proverbial camel’s back and they are, literally, not buying it.

The folks at the ThinkProgress, a political blog that is an outgrowth of the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress, has this to say:

Many companies that are opening on Thanksgiving have explained that employees are “excited” to work holiday shifts and to earn some extra pay. However, that’s rarely the full story. At Kmart, managers are reportedly denying requests for time off for Thanksgiving shifts that being at 6 a.m., even though the company claims this isn’t company policy.

 Meanwhile, part-time retail workers struggle with too few shifts on wages that pay well below a living wage, forcing them to work the holiday because they are already underpaid.

Even if they did have a choice, one in four workers do not receive any paid vacation time because the U.S. is alone in not mandating paid sick days, vacation, or holidays.

Here’s the rest of that story.

And Americans are, in fact, pushing back and pressuring retailers to close. One example, reported on Thursday by Think Progress:

 This year, hundreds of malls will open for holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day, the new norm in American retail. The owner of those malls, Simon Property Group, is facing consumer backlash for encouraging stores to deny workers their holidays and feeding a 26-hour shopping frenzy.

 Employees at Simon malls across the country are fighting the holiday encroachment, too. Eight petitions on Change.org ask Simon stores to change their hours on Thanksgiving Day. Amber Baumgart, a worker at a Wisconsin Simon mall, began the largest one. Now signed by more than 21,000 people, Baumgart’s petition argues the six employees at her small store have no choice but to work 12 hour shifts that day.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be signing Amber Baumgart’s petition.  Enough is enough.