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EDITORIAL: Companies cannot exploit unpaid interns forever

Companies that employ student interns and choose not to pay students for their labor are engaging in predatory and unethical behavior

Student internships that do not offer a paycheck bar low-income students from applying and exploit those who can afford to work for free.  – Photo by Flickr.com

Returning to campus this fall means we can finally partake in our favorite activity: attending job fairs and begging for internships. Whip out your best suit and laminated resume and get ready to work a 9-to-5 job for no benefits and no pay.

Grab a coffee for your boss, make 50 copies of a PDF that is available online and conduct all the other menial tasks your job demands, all in the name of experience. If you are one of the lucky students sacrificing a summer vacation for a line on your resume and you have the audacity to ask for college credit for your work, you will have to pay Rutgers for its esteemed three credit Rutgers Internship and Co-Op Program course.

Of course, reality is not so bleak. The experiences and connections we gain from our internships are worthwhile, but are they worth sacrificing a paycheck? Regardless of how many LinkedIn connections you gain, you deserve a minimum wage salary, and you certainly should not have to pay Rutgers the full price of three credits for an internship they are not offering.

Lack of compensation and the steep cost of credits can be a burden to some students, but a complete obstacle for others. The decision to leave these positions unpaid bars low-income students from career-building opportunities and developing important professional relationships.

Unpaid internships are legal only if the intern is the “primary beneficiary” of the relationship. Whether you are the primary beneficiary depends on an incredibly flexible set of seven characteristics. Without explaining each one of the seven rules, the general theme is that the worker understands they are not getting compensated and that they are not doing work for a paid employee, but rather tasks that compliment that work.

That said, even if this standard were enforced in every case, it does not address the effect of unpaid internships on low-income students. When internships are unpaid, the only individuals who can afford to take those positions are those who do not need to hold another job. Internships take up the time of a paid position, without the income, which is a deal breaker for students struggling to make ends meet. 

Fast Company magazine, an American business publication, reported on the issue saying, “unpaid internships (favor) privileged students who can afford them while (others who face debt) are expected to pad their resume with unpaid work experience to make themselves more appealing to employers.” 

If unpaid internships are as beneficial to future careers as they are advertised, then discriminating against low-income students only perpetuates the problem. All students should have access to career resources and opportunities, regardless of income. 

Charging students the price of a summer class for internship credit is only adding insult to injury. The service that Rutgers provides to transform an internship opportunity into academic credit is minimal at best and should be covered by the exorbitant amount of tuition we already pay. Even if there was to be a fee for internship credit, it should not approach the cost of a summer course. 

Rutgers must do a better job of advocating for students. When sending out mass emails advertising internships, Rutgers must indicate which are paid and unpaid. The University must offer professional and financial support for students who cannot afford to forgo time they would otherwise spend at a paid job. Most importantly, Rutgers must reevaluate its pricing for summer internship credit and significantly lower the cost. 

Students should be mindful of what kind of internships they are applying for, ask for compensation for their work and advocate for themselves. While some of us cannot pass up on the professional benefits from unpaid internships, we can make an effort to focus on paid positions and ask for some kind of compensation whenever possible.

Know the value of the work you are doing and make sure that your labor and effort is not being taken advantage of by a company that has the means to pay you. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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