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Exclusive Ed Interview: Diana Wang, the Intern Muckraker?

Jul 2, 2012 / Media Coverage—Gennifer Delman

Ed: What do you want to happen as a result of this case?
Xuedan “Diana” Wang: I really hope that the lawsuit would regulate what the employer allows the intern to do task-wise and the hours interns work. There has been no oversight or regulation about those types of issues with internships. Every other kind of employment that I can think of has some laws or regulation in terms of what is okay in terms of hours, minimum wage. [That’s $7.25 an hour in New York, btw — Ed]

Ed: How will this case affect the magazine industry?
Wang’s Lawyer Elizabeth Wagoner: What I think it means for the magazine industry more broadly is simply that they do face class-action lawsuits over their internship programs. Hearst had tried to argue that since interns may do slightly different work across the magazines that they couldn’t proceed as a collective or class-action based on those differences. What this opinion means is that it doesn’t matter that they had slightly different responsibilities; the fact that they all worked in Hearst’s unpaid internship program are similarly situated and can then proceed as a group. I’m sure that other magazine publishers are looking at that decision as a way to avoid liability on a group-basis. Obviously they would prefer to only have to owe wages to a person at a time, rather than thousands of interns that have worked for them over the years. This means that, as a precedent, interns can proceed as a group.

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Ed: Most companies require college credit but often that costs the intern hundreds or thousands of dollars. Did you get college credit for your internship? Did you have to pay for it?
DW: Well, I had arranged for a letter to be sent out by an advisor at my college where I went to for undergrad. I sent the letter that was drawn by my advisor to Bazaar, because they required proof that you were receiving academic credit. But in the end, I actually didn’t end up getting those credit hours because I couldn’t afford to pay for those hours, which would have cost me $2,650 and $700. I tried to use a payment plan to pay off those hours and I just couldn’t, so in the end I didn’t get those hours.

Ed: A lot of comments on Ed’s FB and Twitter page say that interns have to “pay their dues.” Do you disagree with that idea?
DW: I think that people don’t acknowledge the way things are because of the status quo: That to get anywhere you just have to pay your dues, keep your head down, and do the work. I do think there’s a lot of stipulation about the fact that interns should be grateful to be allowed to work at these prestigious places for free.

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Ed: What gave you the big push to file the suit?
DW: I had been through a lot working there every day, and the things that I saw and experienced I didn’t feel good about. The way I was treated by my supervisor was just deplorable. He directly admitted to me that not only would he not recommend me for a job after the internship, but he would also have to tell the people who would contact him for a reference about me that I didn’t do a very good job and they shouldn’t hire me. He actually admitted to me that he did end up telling some of these places that I interviewed at not to hire me. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to tell people not to hire this person. The thing that hurt me the most was the fact that I had never worked so hard at a job in my life, and it’s ironic that it didn’t pay a dime to do a job that took so much out of me, physically and emotionally.

Ed: Do you believe that interns are replacing entry-level workers?
DW: Things are very different now if you’re a college student or intern. Once upon a time, companies used to invest in entry-level workers. They used to train them and spend money investing in employees and they don’t do that anymore. They’re just using interns more and more to do entry-level work. I think that people should stop and think about saying no to letting that practice continue. The thing is, the more unpaid interns there are, the less paid employees there are. That hurts everyone in the end. It’s basically voting with what you’re willing and not willing to do with your time.

Ed: You’re now also suing Fenton/Fallon a jewelry company where you had been a public relations intern.
DW: It’s absolutely true. I did work for Fenton/Fallon for a month and a half before my internship started Bazaar. Before then, I was a huge admirer of Dana Lorenz; she was one of my favorite jewelry designers. She [Lorenz] was able to rope in a mass of interns so that we were basically there from morning until evening making the jewelry. I was cutting wires; that’s all I did. In some ways it was a worse experience than Hearst, but it was different. Being an unpaid messenger and being an unpaid jewelry constructer — they’re kind of both utterly manual labor that is — both just pretty humiliating. That lawsuit… it’s not turning into anything the size of Hearst, but she has admitted her wrongdoing.

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