Creative Commons Problem Solver podcast: Making internship rules match up with 21st-century economy

Written by Daniela Gjesdal on behalf of the Good Jobs First Initiative, featuring Shaye Lehmann, Dave Schilling, Dave Weigel, and Geoffrey Skelley.

Proposed European rules on unpaid internships send a clear message: students and young workers benefit from, but should not pay for, access to well-paying jobs.

Our foundation has long supported limiting the downside of free and unpaid internships. The dangers of exploitation are well known. Interns who aren’t paid are more likely to be treated unfairly, to need health care and to rely on food banks and other public resources. Those in lower-paying internships are subject to a broader set of disadvantages, from weaker wages to more frequent layoffs.

In 2011, an emergency call for interns to be paid sparked strong support from former graduates, employers and labor rights groups. But the world of work has continued to grow even as the policy debate has languished. As a result, unpaid internships have become so widespread that both our organization and our colleagues at the People’s Labor Coalition and Fund for Equality and Justice have been fielding similar calls from graduates of liberal arts colleges and nonprofits alike.

In response, we would like to introduce the Good Jobs First Undergraduate Protection Act of 2019. Among its provisions:

Lawmakers must guarantee that unpaid internships cannot exist for more than three months without pay.

Lawmakers must ensure that either students, students’ families or interns will be compensated for work performed.

All legislative proposals must have clear language on how to charge interns for work performed in the absence of compensation.

Similarly, our proposal would also ensure that local laws limiting unpaid internships and contracts could be enforced. Without that enforcement, there is little hope of reducing the number of internships that benefit noneconomic interests over the long term.

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