The True Cost of “Free” Labor

8 Feb

For college students and graduate students everywhere, one word rings synonymous with the equivalent of  modern day slave labor: internship. In today’s job market, many graduates have taken internships to a new level – post graduation “jobs”. As many know, an internship equates to an “invaluable” experience that often pays nothing and at times can carry a small fee. The majority of internships are essentially bottom of the ladder positions within the company, and depending on the industry can equal long hours and little appreciation. Most of us have been there but only one has taken their “employer” to court.

Xuedan Wang, a former unpaid intern at Harper’s Bazaar from December 2010 until December 2011, wants to bring a class action suit against Harper’s publisher, Hearst Corporation. Wang is alleging what we all already know – unpaid interns are essentially entry-level employees who simply do not receive compensation for their work. Wang’s lawsuit states: “Employers’ failure to compensate interns for their work, and the prevalence of the practice nationwide, curtails opportunities for employment, fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot, and indirectly contributes to rising unemployment.”

Though an ideal internship relationship should operate on the basis of quid pro quo, some employers have been known to take advantage of their “free labor”. Only time will dictate whether Ms. Wang can substantiate a case, but the full article detailing Ms. Wang’s case can be found here.

One Response to “The True Cost of “Free” Labor”

  1. dapperdolly February 9, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    I agree with that view, many internships are used as an excuse to get a young person in to the ‘donkey’ work. As part of a specific career choice, an internship can look good on the cv and for some reason is seeing as ‘paying your dues’ but as non-career experiences they’re not looked upon with much credibility as they are unpaid and viewed as voluntary work and that can even be looked down upon by recruitment agencies (less so by direct employers). Either way though, there should be a difference between internships and voluntary work, neither should be looked upon as busboys, tea ladies or girl fridays and internships should be an overall insightful experience of an industry within reason. I personally don’t think that businesses, especially large ones, shouldn’t be in business if they can’t pay their employees properly let alone charge them and interns are practically employees. Just because companies get around employee benefits, higher salaries and other accouting/HR issues by using interns and temps it doesn’t mean they should use them as substitutes for permanent employees. It’s similar to the attitude of paying women or immigrant works less because they can, it’s out of order and socially backwards.

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