Why Are Unpaid Internships Legal?

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In November, Senator Schumer (D-NY) advertised a full-time press intern position for $0 per hour. If you are thinking, “This is not the America I know,” or “Democrats are better than this,” then we disagree. And we know different Americas. Unpaid internships are in line with the 96% of House Democrats and the 92% of Senate Democrats who also don’t pay their interns.

The US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hours Division uses six factors to determine whether a individual is an employee (in need of compensation) or a trainee (eligible for unpaid internship status):

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
  3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
  6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

“If all of the factors listed above are met, then the worker is a “trainee”, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the worker. Because the FLSA’s definition of “employee” is broad, the excluded category of “trainee” is necessarily quite narrow.” (page 7)

To a “reasonable every-person,” it would seem that meeting all six of these criteria is actually quite hard  —  and that many employers throughout the country are violating this law by declaring employees as “trainees” so as not to pay them.

The issue is that employers, including our own representatives, argue the interpretation of these guidelines:

“Of course this is similar to vocational school.”

“Of course this is for their benefit.”

“Of course I hardly enjoy any immediate advantage.”

Employers are not entitled to free labor, whether labeled an internship or not, no matter how well it builds our resumes  —  except under our corrupted legal system.

Democrats pushing for a living wage while exploiting young and naive reformists are Democrats who need to be pushed into better values.

Senator Schumer called the job posting a mistake. I call bull. He thought he could get away with it, and promises stipends now that he knows he cannot. But my analysis of his intentions aside, we the public need to continue pushing for living, even thriving, wages.

Make unpaid internships a violation of minimum wage laws, and require all workers, regardless of whether they are employees, interns, or contracted, to be paid the federal minimum wage. While we are at it, base the minimum wage on pay ratio, which automatically adjusts for inflation, so we do not have to keep arguing for this.

Give representatives something to represent, or they will choose for us.


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