Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Interning For Occasional Fun ... And No Profit

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.


Floyd Norman said...

Or, the studio bosses could grow a conscience and stop exploiting interns because they know they can.

Oh, wait. What am I thinking?!

Anonymous said...

are "apprentices" considered interns to the union???

Outraged said...

"Burning bridges?" That's outrageous! Who would want to come back to a studio that tried to get away with making you work for nothing? These people should be fined and closed down. If they can't run a studio without cheating workers out of wages, than they deserve be in business at all. Close them down.

Anonymous said...

what about getting paid as an intern to do creative work and not get credit for the work done?

Anonymous said...

........it just goes on and on, doesn't it?
THINK people.
Is it really worth it?

Anonymous said...

I'm not in animation, but this article just makes me fume. The abuse of young artists HAS TO STOP. And to you young artists out there...YOU'RE TOO GOOD FOR SUCH TREATMENT. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. VALUE YOUR TALENT. DON'T LET A COMPANY NAME, NOT EVEN DISNEY'S, MAKE YOU THINK YOU'RE LESS THAN YOU ARE. That company, and all animation companies, were built on TALENT. Non-talent abusing talent has been rampant for years, but this is the freaking 21st century, not Victorian Dickensian England and the abuse MUST be dealt with. Thanks, Steve, for doing your part. Unions have gotten something of a bad name, but if they keep doing what they're supposed to do - put a halt to pernicious exploitation - then they'll have achieved a sacred mission. DON'T GIVE UP.

Floyd Norman said...

And once again, the union can't do a darn thing unless the people being exploited are willing to step up.

The animation union is not some kind of cartoon police force. Members comprise the union, and if they continue to let the studios off the hook for fear of reprisals, the abuse will continue.

Anonymous said...

Interns cant join the union therefore have no voice, no benefits or no leadership. I've interned in 4 studios and only 1 of those was union. I had no voice or no calvary to make the changes happen. But I needed the experience and get to know the process of production whereas the school I attended didn't teach that at all.

Anonymous said...

But I needed the experience and get to know the process of production whereas the school I attended didn't teach that at all.

Cripes, things have gone downhill. I'm a self-taught VFX artist. I never worked as an unpaid intern. I got hired for my first gig in 1999, and I learned "the process of production" on-the-job while getting paid $30/hour.

Kids these days are getting ripped off. :^(

Steve Hulett said...

... the union can't do a darn thing unless the people being exploited are willing to step up.

To let you know, we will assist anyone who is being shafted to the extent that it's possible.

We've spent money on artists being exploited by "employers" who then loaned them out to secondary studios and kept most of the artists' paychecks.

We've filed grievances and initiated lawsuits for member and non-members that were being exploited.

We don't right every wrong, but we reach out with help and advice wherever possible.

Anonymous said...

It's been my observation that the people who can afford to spend their twenties working unpaid or underpaid/no-OT gigs in the hope of impressing slave-driving employers, tend to be those with rich parents and/or large trust funds.

While those film or art school grads who are already hurting from paying off student loans and the cost of living in Los Angele$, have to limit themselves to gigs that pay at least enough to cover rent and food.

Yet another example of basic economic inequality in America.

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