Have you ever worked as an unpaid intern?
For most careers, it is almost a guarantee that if you hope to break into that particular industry that at some point you will work countless hours not for monetary compensation, but rather for the chance of learning important skills and earning a positive letter of recommendation that could possibly yield a paying gig.
With only 54 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds currently employed, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, internships are rapidly replacing traditional entry-level jobs.
Many recent grads are now willing to take any work experience they can get, paid or unpaid.
One industry known for its plethora of unpaid interns is the fashion industry.
However, a recent story in the Huffington Post exposes a growing firestorm over the legality of such internships in the industry.
On Feb. 1, Xuedan "Diana" Wang, a former Harper's Bazaar intern, filed a lawsuit against Hearst Corporation.
The class action, a first for the fashion industry, seeks damages for Wang's five months of unpaid labor in the magazine's accessories department.
Two other interns joined the lawsuit last week.
At Harper's Bazaar, Wang, a 28-year-old Ohio native, said she worked 40 to 55 hours a week as a "head intern," supervising eight other unpaid workers as they carried bags of clothes to and from PR firms, effectively serving as a messenger service for the magazine.
Wang reportedly believes that her experience at Harper's Bazaar wasn't an internship, but a job that deserved compensation, according to the Huffington Post.
She claims that the work did not comply with the U.S. Department of Labor's guidelines for internships.
Hearst reportedly maintains that Wang's internship was perfectly legal, reiterating the fact that their interns receive academic credit for their participation.
Wang, who had already graduated from Ohio State when she began the internship, received course credit by contacting the office of continuing studies and paying around $700 for two additional credit hours to be added to her transcript.
Wang claims her internship was hardly educational and for the most part, she was unsupervised and spent her time waiting for other interns to return so she could organize hundreds of items of clothing and check them in to the magazine's closet.
If something went wrong or came in late, Wang allegedly took the blame.
When her internship ended in December, Wang's supervisor declined to write her a letter of recommendation that would have led to a paying job, claiming Wang had made mistakes in giving instructions to other interns, according to the Huffington Post.
For the full story, click this link.
Like many journalists, I have completed my share of unpaid internships.
I completed two while I was still in college.
They were rigorous, but they were invaluable experiences that yielded me good contacts and led to my eventual employment at paying journalism jobs.
I was willing to put in the work for the opportunity to do what I loved.
But I can certainly empathize with college graduate with no job in today's economy who have the same “real world” bills that I have now.
I cannot imagine they would be as amenable to doing multiple internships that are more like jobs for free, despite the tough economy.
What are your thoughts?
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