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Are unpaid interns adding to resumes or being taken advantage of illegally?

Companies often break labor laws because of how they treat their unpaid internships, but students can put an end to this.

Stephanie Thai, Contributing Writer

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Each year, students apply to several different internships in the hope of getting one, paid or unpaid. From organizing a storage closet to doing the work of a paid employee, many interns feel bound to do whatever their “employers” ask of them. However, for those with unpaid internships, the effort they put in could result in doing activities that go against labor laws. Interns should be careful about what internships they are willing to take.

To some employers, the term “unpaid intern” really means free labor. Working without being compensated results in the possibility of being taken advantage of, especially if companies know that they can get away with manipulating the intern if they are afraid to speak out.

“Any job that people are going to want – whether it’s a lawyer or a doctor, you’re going to have to intern somewhere and take crap from people and you’re just going to have to pay your dues,” Mike Zahn, a third year kinesiology major, said. He is currently an intern for the California State University, Long Beach’s men’s basketball team.

“Many regulators say that violations are widespread, but that it is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints,” said reporter Steven Greenhouse in the New York Times. “Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.”

In order for students to protect themselves from being taken advantage of, they should be aware of certain rules and regulations. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers should not have the interns displace the work of regular employees. Instead, they should recognize that the work of an intern in their business is purely training and specifically for the intern’s educational benefit.

Employers like Evan Lessler, owner at Adapt, a brand notable for representing the Bay Area through clothing feels that interns need to have some sort of compensation especially since regulations can be a lot harsher in places like San Francisco

“We don’t use interns anymore,” said Lessler. “Everyone is paid.”

The fact that some cities crack down on what are considered ethical and unethical labor practices is not just something employers should be worried about but students as well. Students need to ensure that the work they do is to benefit them and not just the companies.

In the court case, Walling v. Portland Terminal Co., Portland Terminal Company had training for prospective employees where applicants would work for six-seven days a week. After the applicants had successfully shown themselves to be competent, employers would add these applicants to a list, call when extra services were needed and then pay them $4 a day. The court found that the company’s procedures were unethical and introduced the Fair Labor Standards act, which became a major proponent for individuals who are being put to work without equal pay, including interns.

 

“It’s the modern way to get cheap labor for companies that profit from that,” said Heloiza Herscovitz, an associate professor and internship coordinator in the journalism department at CSULB. “You’re not an employee, and they don’t have to pay for anything, but you have to pay for your own gas and probably your own parking. Companies exploit those students, yes. But that’s the way students get that experience.”

 

However, some internships work out well. Stacey Nguyen is a fourth year fashion-merchandising student at CSULB and an unpaid intern at LookBook, an online platform where fashion bloggers can express themselves through their individual style.

 

“Before I got the job, I did a lot of networking.” Nguyen said. “I think with this company, I [will] be able to branch out to other companies and opportunities will fall into place with me.”

 

Nguyen said she has found that through her own self-starting initiatives, she has grown both professionally and personally, and she has been privileged to attend major events like London Fashion Week through her internship.

 

For students like Nguyen, feeling more confident and self-aware of what the next step is after their internships should be the foundation for all students’ attitudes since many are trying to get the most of their internship experience.

 

Essentially, going through the internship process is a matter of deciding whether what is being offered in exchange for the time and effort is worth it. It is up to the individuals themselves to not only make that call, but to take what they can from the experience as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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