Once again on the subject of the Free Work Brigade, the L.A. Times mentions this:
... Federal and state wage-and-hour regulations typically govern internships. And, while enforcement of these rules has not been a priority for state and federal labor officials [You think?] there has been some new attention directed to this topic in recent weeks.
David Balter, acting chief counsel at California's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, said, "We are well aware that there are a lot of abuses of internship programs where it's not really being done to provide a skill or benefit to the intern, but is basically being done for cheap or free labor."
... Basically, those criteria say training must be similar to that given in an educational environment and must be for the benefit of the intern. The interns must not displace other workers and must be closely supervised.
Internships can be both beneficial and educational, no doubt about it. But they can also screw over twenty-somethings working gratis on projects at animation and visual effects facilities. Take this recent example that showed up in our e-mail in-box:
... I talked to the intern who works here. He is no longer a student and did work on X for about 10 weeks. He said the students didn't like it because they had to PAY to work on the show.
I told him that there might be a case for them to get paid but he was hesitant because he doesn't want to burn bridges. He said it would be awesome to get paid for the work he did. He thinks it would be alot of money. ...
Let's sort this out. You slave away for free, and state officials and the Federales never come around to enforce their own rules, so you figure:
"Okay, I worked for nothing on this project but the supervisor likes me so maybe I get a paying job on the next thing that comes through, then it will all be worth it ..."
Or maybe not. Because companies aren't supposed to have people work on profit-generating movies for nothing, yet they do so, again and again. And when they get away with the practice, they tend to do the "free work" strategy more. I once strolled into a small animation house where an "intern" was animating a commercial for the princely sum of nothing. When I pointed this out to a supervisory person, his response was, "Ahm, well, yeah. Maybe we should address that, huh?"
This time around, I contacted an attorney, and detailed the problem. He wrote back:
... I am willing to bet company didn't comply with requirements for unpaid interns. We could potentially do a minimum and overtime case but need at least one person's name for the complaint which might qualify for class action though the group is small. ...
And therein lies the conundrum. To make a case, you need to get people to come forward, but most don't want to get labeled as troublemakers and so suffer the abuses in silence. They are, after all, reaching for the next rung on the career ladder and don't want to jeopardize any chances.
It's a totally human response to a crappy situation, but ultimately (we think) the wrong response. Because the longer the situation is allowed to go on, the crappier it will get.