The debate over the unpaid or poorly paid internship has reached a fever pitch in recent months, with lawsuits rolling in around the country against companies for unfair labor practices. Conde Nast dropped its famous program after a lawsuit by two former interns put the fear of God in them. Charlie Rose settled out of court with its unpaid interns last December. Slowly, the unpaid internship is being stigmatized. But clearly the stigma was not enough to keep New York magazine from donating a mini-internship to a charity auction. A one-week internship at one of New York’s premiere publications for the low, low price of $950? You don’t say.
The magazine donated the internship, in which the winner “will support New York Magazine’s writers and editors”, to a charity auction for the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, whose agenda we would presume included the right to a living wage for a hard day’s work. (RFK Center has not yet responded to a request for comment.) Kerry Kennedy, president of the nonprofit that bears her father’s name, tweeted out the lot Friday afternoon:
— Kerry Kennedy (@KerryKennedyRFK) December 6, 2013
The auction opened November 21 at $500. The bids have come in increments of $50 and $150 — CharityBuzz user “big daddy” placed the currently winning $950 bid Thursday night. There are still 11 days left on the auction clock.
We’ve reached the apotheosis of the plight of the entry-level worker: Instead of working full-time for free, why not pay for the privilege? And the old straw man of being paid in experience is especially floppy here. One week is an awfully short time for whichever Lauren Conrad-type who lands the gig to learn skills and schmooze sufficiently to make contacts. Of course, the terrifying part is that there’s enough demand from the Laurens out there that makes this auction tenable.
Regular interns at New York receive minimum wage — $7.25 — if they choose pay over course credit. (Interns at the Voice are not paid, fellows are.) New York will pay the mini-intern for the time spent, but at $7.25 for seven hours a day for five days, whoever wins the bid recoups just $253.75. It’s a $696.25 net loss, and that’s only if no more bids go in.
It’s not just that interns are people and people need to eat. It’s the blindspot liberal publications have to their own complicity. VICE writer Charles Davis wallops left-leaning publications for their “chutzpah” in an essay earlier this week:
America’s leading liberal periodicals are aware of the obstacles to advancement the less privileged face in our decidedly not meritocratic society. Indeed, they often provide excellent coverage of the class war, from union-busting at Walmart to the fight for a living wage at fast-food chains. At the same time, though, many of them are exploiting workers in a way that would make corporate America proud: relabeling entry-level employees “interns” and “fellows” in order to dance around US labor laws.
The Cut, an online New York property, snarked about an internship auction sale in 2010, in which Zac Posen paid $3,500 for a six-week internship with Martha Stewart. Proceeds went to the Martha Stewart Center for Living.
Here’s a thought experiment: If the value of the internship at auction is estimated at $2,500 (we’re not sure who came up with that number, RFK or New York), what should interns be making in a year?
Assuming New York has two weeks’ paid vacation, and assuming interns are given vacation to begin with, that comes to 50 workweeks in a year. That means, before taxes, an intern would pull down $125,000, assuming an internship is actually worth that much to the functioning of the paper (doubtful).