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Unpaid Internships Under Fire

Jul 15, 2013 / Media Coverage

marketplace.org—Sally Herships

Interns are making news. Unpaid interns are suing big companies. The latest is NBC. In some cases, the former interns were also students getting college credit for their work. But they've accused companies of not providing the educational experiences they were promised. In other cases, former interns are claiming they’re doing the same work as regular employees, except, well, they’re working for free.

Unpaid internships are a touchy subject. What’s a company to do?

Recently, I sent out a tweet which said, “Don’t throw anything at the screen, but any unpaid interns out there who feel like it’s worth it?”

Arielle Rosenfeld sent in one of the many replies I got. She’s 25 and works in development for the Giva Theater Center in Rochester, N.Y., where she started as a college junior doing an unpaid internship.

“I couldn’t be more grateful to have had the experience," Rosenfeld says. "A classroom education only goes so far.”

And she says unpaid internships aren't without benefits. "I feel like I was paid in a way. I was paid with the knowledge that I would not have received otherwise."

Rosenfeld helped with research, organizing files and running auditions. She says what she learned about running a theater she wouldn’t have picked up in the classroom.

“What all the rules are in actor’s equity and how that pertains to the rehearsal time and how the stage manager keeps a really clear clock of how everything is timed out to the minute," she says.

And the timing was perfect for Rosenfeld. She was hired right out of college. But while a student is doing an internship there's no way to know if it'll end up paying off later in life with a paycheck or not.
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Outten and Golden, the law firm behind those cases says interns are not supposed to do the same work as regular employees, and they’re not allowed to do work that will “immediately benefit a company.” But isn't real work the best kind of experience? The law firm says while it may be great, it's also work and needs to be paid for.
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In the meantime, Arielle Rosenfeld is working with interns at the Giva Theater Center. And just like when she was an intern, they’re also not paid.

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