On Friday, Deadline reported that talent agency ICM Partners is trying to head of a potential class action lawsuit from former interns who allege that they were doing the work of paid employees without being compensated. One former intern specifically states that after a paid assistant was fired, the assistant’s work was assigned to the unpaid intern. This is in clear violation of Department of Labor guidelines regarding how unpaid or academic internships should be handled.
Typically when these cases come up, especially in the entertainment industry, there’s a lot of back talk about how people should just be grateful to be given a chance and now they’ll never work in this industry again. However, when you “start from the bottom” there’s a big difference between the “bottom” being a mailroom job with a low wage where you have to hustle to get people to notice you, and the “bottom” being an unpaid internship that you take while still having to pay rent, buy food, and cover tuition for whatever college is giving you academic credit for the internship. In one case you might barely be making enough money to scrape by. In the other, you’re actively losing money while gaining “valuable experience” that actually makes you less likely to be hired in the long run.
A lot of businesses have taken unfair advantage of their interns to replace entry level employees, and it’s a practice actively restricting the number of jobs available to recent college grads looking to begin their careers. There’s an argument to be made that we should end unpaid internships altogether. If someone’s good enough to do entry level or assistant work, they should be making entry level or assistant wages. Unfortunately, the trend isn’t likely to go away anytime in the near future, as internships at prestigious companies are currently being auctioned off for thousands of dollars. Getting your parents to pay for you to work for free is the new American dream, apparently.