Internships and Labor Law

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I think the government wants to make sure that people—particularly young people—are not exploited. We don’t want people to be “volunteering” their labor in a way that profits an employer. It’s an easy avenue to exploitation, even easier where there’s a suggestion that you’ll get a job at the end of it. A second policy is not to have free labor—what used to be slave labor—replacing paid and tax-paying adult labor. Without these laws, a studio owner could decide to replace a paid studio manager with a few unpaid interns, and we don’t want that: having someone drawing unemployment, or worse yet going on welfare, when he or she is willing to work.

— New York attorney Alan Koral

via PDN.

There Are 12 Comments On This Article.

  1. Funny that this article should be coming out now during a time when postings for “interns wanted” is rampant in the photo industry and related.
    In truth this has been going on for years and has been the norm for many famous and infamous photographers.
    (Insert famous names here:_________)
    I’ve seen first hand instances were a photo assistant has been left off a job because an intern was going to be used in order to meet the budget of a shoot.
    Or an intern used instead of an assistant stylist.
    And those cases are the better examples.
    In most cases an intern will never or very rarely get the opportunity to learn from a photographer on set.
    Very often they are relegated to doing office work, walking dogs, picking up dry cleaning, moving cars for ALT side street parking, picking up the morning bagels and or lunch.
    In every instance that I have seen over the last 20 years only 1 intern was ever hired to continue working at a photographers studio.

  2. When I was the staff photographer for a major fashion designer, it was a point of pride for me that I convinced the company to let me create a paid internship, especially because all the other interns in the company were unpaid. I argued that mine was a special case because my interns didn’t just shuffle papers and fetch coffee. They helped haul equipment around town (and around the country), worked long or odd hours, assisted me on every shoot, even the small shoots that I wouldn’t have normally hired an assistant for. But for an intern, the experience on those shoots was still educational.

    At one point, the company decided it was unfair for me to be the only person with a paid intern, so they decided I couldn’t pay them anymore. But I fought for it, and the company eventually relented. However, I had to call them “seasonal employees” or something like that instead of interns. Whatever it took to satisfy HR. Nothing else about the position really changed.

    They didn’t get paid a ton, but enough to put a dent in the cost of living in New York (I tended to pick interns from small schools in small towns, so that the experience of life in a big city might be yet another benefit).

    Since the company was a famous brand, I’m sure I would have had just as many applicants for an unpaid internship as I did for the paid internship. Over six years, I think I had 13 interns, each for four months at a time. When I left the company, the internship was continued under the new photographer, but it sadly became an unpaid position. I’m not sure how much the intern’s duties have changed to reflect that.

    • Internship period: 3 months
      Job description:
      1–Coordinate with Chinese editors to organize promotion pages and newsletters;
      2–Polish product descriptions
      3-Write, edit, proofread, and copyedit a variety of documents/ web pages.
      4–Work as a marketing assistant to do research on our target market and target customers – to learn more about their needs; Help the marketing manager to promote our website and products;

      Requirement:
      1–Fluent English with excellent writing skills;
      2–Strong communication and presentation skills
      3–Fairly good at using computer and Microsoft Office system;
      4–Working experience or skills related to travel business is preferred;
      5–Love China and communicate with people.
      6–Strong project management skills
      7—No age limitation.

      If you meet the above requirements and are interested in the above mentioned position, please email to Iwan.c.123@gmail.com with a copy of your resume along with a recent writing sample and photo.

  3. Thanks for sharing!
    Exploitation, slavery. These are the right words. No-one should ever have to work for free except, arguably, if it is:
    – for a short period of time;
    – as part of their education.

  4. PS. Times are tough for everyone, most of the “photographers” I know in London are on Job Seekers Allowance and have done no paid work in close to a year!

  5. Young Photog

    Agreed,

    I have heard of many photographers having unpaid interns, if the photographer is really established and the intern thinks they can learn a lot, then the it’s up to them but…I’ve heard stories of one studio here in town that takes it way out of control….

    Their interns have to work for a 3-6 months completely unpaid before they are even considered as being brought on as paid assistants (they work along with a staff of 2 full time assistants.)

    …the staff/full time assistants for this studio have to sign NDAs and a contract stating they won’t shoot ANY work themselves for ANY sort of paying client for the entire time that they’re working at the studio (yearly contract)

    These full time assistants also get a pretty weak salary and are usually there from 7am-6pm+ Monday through Friday…yikes.

  6. In order for this law to be enforced, an intern has to be the whistle blower and report the photographer. I would guess that most interns for high profile photographers are not going to do this, as they were excited by the prospect of working with _______ famous photographer, and probably don’t want a photographer to be angry with them and to tell others in the industry not to work with them. So this law is rarely enforced.

  7. Its amusing to me that this has come out now.
    I just quit an internship with a BIG name photographer who I thought I’d learn from and instead was used for free labor.
    As Greg said, who is going to report someone with a big name. If you are an intern you are obviously trying to get your foot in the door in some way.
    After the last experience, I’ve realized my free time would be better spent shooting for myself than cleaning someone who has the money to PAY someone’s studio.
    Is this a hopeless cause or is there something that can be done besides NOT taking the internship?

  8. I’m in school for photography now right now. Last summer, I had the most amazing internship. I went to shoots with him. I traveled to Atlanta, DC and Maine with him. I assisted and helped edit photos. He let me copy his entire contact list. And it was paid. Some photographers take really good care of their interns.

  9. Oh great – more lawyers and government telling us how to run our lives. Thanks anyway.