More hand-wringing from the New York Times over unpaid interns

May 8th, 2012

Melissa Reyes, who graduated from Marist College with a degree in fashion merchandising last May, applied for a dozen jobs to no avail. She was thrilled, however, to land an internship with the Diane von Furstenberg fashion house in Manhattan. “They talked about what an excellent, educational internship program this would be,” she said.

But Ms. Reyes soon soured on the experience. She often worked 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week. “They had me running out to buy them lunch,” she said. “They had me cleaning out the closets, emptying out the past season’s items.” Asked about her complaints, the fashion firm said, “We are very proud of our internship program, and we take all concerns of this kind very seriously.”

Hear that? It’s the world’s tiniest violin playing a tune of sympathy for someone who majored in fashion merchandising and then was surprised she could not find a job. And know who is playing it? An unpaid intern.

And this guy who majored in philosophy and wanted to break into the “music and entertainment industry”:

Matt Gioe had little luck breaking into the music and entertainment industry after graduating with a philosophy degree from Bucknell last year. To get hands-on experience, he took an unpaid position with a Manhattan talent agency that booked musical acts. He said he answered phones and looked up venues. Although he was sometimes told to make bookings, he said he received virtually no guidance on how to strike a deal or how much to charge. But the boss did sometimes ask him to run errands like buying groceries.

“It was basically three wasted months,” he said.

And this 40-year-old-intern with an MBA and a Master’s Degree in international management (maybe Steve Carrell can play him in a movie):

Eric Glatt, who at age 40 interned for the movie “Black Swan,” is one of the few interns with the courage to sue for wages over the work he did.

With an M.B.A. and a master’s in international management, Mr. Glatt wanted to get into film after a previous job overseeing training programs at the American International Group, the big insurance and financial services company. For “Black Swan,” he prepared documents for purchase orders and petty cash, traveled to the set to obtain signatures on documents and tracked employees’ personnel data.

“I knew that this was going to be a normal job and I wasn’t going to be paid for it,” he said. “But it started kicking around in my mind how unjust this was. It’s just become part of this unregulated labor market.”

Mr. Glatt filed suit, accusing Fox Searchlight Pictures of minimum wage violations. The company says it fully complies with the law and provides interns with a valuable, real-world work experience.

“The purpose of filing this case was to help end this practice,” said Mr. Glatt, who now plans to go to law school. “That was more important than my working on the next blockbuster.”

The Times, and Steven Greenhouse in particular (is he related to Linda?), has published this piece–almost identical-several times. Nothing new here.

Update: It is worthwhile to compare how the Times treats unpaid interns (who major in things that have weak career prospects) and how the WSJ treats unpaid interns with MBAs:

But now some companies are going a step farther, placing entire brands in the hands of students, with the hope of developing long-lasting partnerships between company and school instead of one-off advisory relationships. Schools promote the projects as a hands-on learning experience for students and a solid résumé booster in a tight job market.

Still, the programs aren’t entirely altruistic: While the companies get free— or nearly free—labor, and schools’ total compensation for these projects can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the students don’t get paid a dime.

Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc.DPS +1.93% this year handed over the reins of its Yoo-hoo chocolate-drink marketing campaign to two M.B.A.s from the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business. The students—working for no pay in the spring and fall, though one will be a salaried intern this summer—are taking over the brand completely to create Yoo-hoo’s first major marketing push in more than four years. The 90-year-old beverage, considered a “midsize” brand at Dr Pepper Snapple, had 2011 sales of more than $100 million, the company says, citing Nielsen data.

The two students, picked via a rigorous selection process, each spend up to 20 hours a week on the project, their combined effort contributing almost the equivalent of one full-time employee. (McCombs graduates who took jobs in brand management last year earned an average of $94,300 a year.)

They report directly to the chief marketing officer and other senior executives and are expected to vie for a slice of the marketing budget alongside the company’s other brand managers. When the students graduate, others will step in.

The hope, says Andrew Springate, senior vice president of marketing at Dr Pepper Snapple, is that the students will oversee the brand, “soup to nuts,” for the foreseeable future. “There’s no real risk, no downside at all,” he says.

The students signed a contract and serve as unpaid employees, and Dr Pepper Snapple covers operating expenses and travel costs. It also pays a former employee to serve as a coach to the student team, and it expects to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in the students’ research efforts.

I think the key takeaway is these students realize the unpaid work is a temporary position, and don’t stay in unpaid positions for year-after-year.

For their part, many students say they don’t mind working without pay—at least, for the moment. “The experiential learning is more valuable than the money at this point,” says Nicole Quesada, a McCombs student with a chemical-engineering background who is working on Yoo-hoo.

She will intern this summer at Dr Pepper Snapple before returning to the unpaid position in the fall. She says her summer salary is “very competitive.”

H/T Mili