Questioning The Ethics Of Unpaid Internships

Read Steven Greenhouse's piece, "The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not"

While many students can't afford to work for free, others see unpaid internships as the only way to get a foot in the door. And in some cases, interns spend thousands of dollars to work for free. Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times talks about the changing rules and ethics of internships.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

The summer gig behind the grill at the burger joint is on the backburner these days. Many college students and grads now angle to land a coveted internship at a law firm, advertising agency, movie studio or at a news organization. They often work for nothing.

As companies look to cut costs, some canceled internship programs altogether. Others, though, stepped it up to take advantage of unpaid labor. And some face tough questions.

The Obama administration recently announced a crackdown on unpaid internships, but critics complain that state and federal guidelines mean little when students desperate to get a foot on the first rung of the ladder decline to complain about working conditions and tasks that can sometimes be described as Dickensian.

For others, of course, they learn some of the differences between the classroom and the real world and put valuable experience on their resume.

Interns, employers: How is working out for you? Tell us your story. Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we'll begin with a caller. Ryan's on the line, calling from New York City.

RYAN (Caller): How are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well, Ryan. How about you? How's your internship working out?

RYAN: Doing fantastic. It's great. A small brewing company has been treating me well.

CONAN: So what did you learn there?

RYAN: Well, I've been learning the ins and outs of the brewing industry. I've been doing everything from administrative work to financial analysis, direct sales, dealing with distributors and suppliers and even brewing. So it's been fantastic.

CONAN: So it sounds like you're ready to step in and do almost anything there.

RYAN: You know it. It's a small company, and they've really given me an opportunity to see all aspects of this.

CONAN: So you've learned a lot.

RYAN: I think I - just tremendous amounts, yes.

CONAN: And do you think you'll go into brewing as your career?

RYAN: I plan on doing - opening up my own brewery at some point, yes.

CONAN: And are you going to work at - what's the name again, Shmaltz?

RYAN: It's called Shmaltz Brewing Company. We do HE'BREW Ale and Coney Island craft lagers.

CONAN: Coney Island craft lagers, okay. And are you going to go back to school?

RYAN: I'm in grad school right now at the University of Houston, getting an MBA and a master's in hospitality management.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So microbrew sounds like what you're headed towards.

RYAN: That's exactly right.

CONAN: All right, Ryan. Thanks very much for the call. Good luck to you.

RYAN: Absolutely. Thanks a lot.

CONAN: We also have an email from Scott in Sacramento: I was an intern at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in 1994 and 1997. I was a food host. Let's not sugarcoat it: I sold expensive burgers.

The pay was so meager, it was basically unpaid. I shared a Disney-managed apartment with five other college students. As interns, we took business classes at Disney University - no joke - and cross-trained throughout the resort.

The summary: The pay was nothing, the hours were miserable, the experience was amazing, but the resume credentials invaluable. If the company can offer you an experience that can your foot in the door down the road, then sign up. Who is hungry enough to do it?

Well, joining us now is Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace correspondent for the New York Times, the author of "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker," with us from our bureau in New York. And Steve, nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. STEVEN GREENHOUSE (Labor and Workplace Correspondent, New York Times; Author): Nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And those descriptions of internships, well, a lot of work, terrible hours, worse pay but invaluable experience. And it's an experience that more and more American kids are going through today.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes, internships are increasingly important. There - a lot of college students, high school students realize it's, you know, vital for their resume, even graduate students.

The problem is the United States Labor Department has firm rules for when internships should be paid and when they should not be paid, and the Labor Department says internships where you're doing the work normally done by regular employees, when you're doing internships that aren't very educational, when you're doing internships made up of a lot of drudgery and grudge work, in theory, you're supposed to be paid.

And as we just heard from Ryan and Scott, you know, their internships might not have been paid, but they say they were very educational-important experiences for them.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yet you described in your piece interns who complained that they spent their internship working for nothing and mopping up the bathrooms, or I love this one in particular: cleaning the door handles when they were in the midst of the flu epidemic.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: I wrote this story in April for the New York Times about the whole controversy over unpaid internships. Adults I know had kind of complained, grumbled to me that their kids, year after year, were doing unpaid internships.

They thought the type of work their kids did was real grunt work and that it wasn't very educational and the kids should be paid. So I went out and did a lot of interviews with college students.

One was this very bright young woman at NYU who was eager to go to work in animation. She got a job with an animation studio in hip SoHo in Lower Manhattan, and she thought she was on her way, but she was assigned to work in the facilities department.

Instead of doing animation, she had to, you know, clean up the kitchen. She did some work cleaning the bathrooms. And because it was the time of the H1N1 swine epidemic, they would have her clean the doorknobs each morning to make sure no one caught it. And she was really revolted by this internship. She really felt that she wasn't learning anything. She felt she was being taken advantage of.

Having said that, Neal, there are some very good internships out there that are valuable, that are truly educational. And sometimes the question is: Where do you draw the line between the ones that are kind of worthless, grunt work, where the company is taking advantage of free labor, and the really good internships, where you learn a lot, and it's not just good on your resume, but it's really good experience that helps you advance in life?

CONAN: There's also some definitional problems - the story of a young woman who complained about sexual harassment. The allegation was dismissed because it turned out, as an unpaid intern, she wasn't an employee.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes. That was surprising, this decision by a court in Washington, D.C. And I would think that either Congress or various city councils would pass laws saying paid or unpaid, internships, for the purpose of discrimination and sexual harassment law, will be considering employees because there seems something wrong when an employer could take full advantage, you know, or sexually harass, you know, a young female or male employee and not face any...

CONAN: Sanction, yeah.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: ...sanctions for doing so, because the intern is not considered an employee.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some more callers in on the conversation. Again: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Interns, call and tell us about your experience. We also want to hear about the employers' side about how valuable interns are, what you use them to do and what you hope to get out of it. Let's go to Ann, and Ann's with us from Yulee in Florida.

ANN (Caller): Yeah, I'm actually a college teacher. I'm adjuncting around, but I've been in the community a long time. So I know people. And I would have students who would ask me if I would recommend them for internships or help them to find internships. And I did.

And the internships, at least reportedly, went very well. And then the companies that they worked for, they were all not-for-profits, when they posted jobs, refused to hire the interns because they only took paid people, people who had paid experience.

CONAN: I see. So the experience of working at that particular company as an unpaid worker did not qualify them for the job.

ANN: It flat-out disqualified them for the job, because they'd only ever been unpaid people. They had never had paid jobs.

CONAN: I think that gets filed under catch-22, doesn't it?

ANN: Yeah. Because if they had gone and gotten a job somewhere else, they might have had paid experience. So they could have been working for these places.

CONAN: And as far as you know, what did those kids go on to do?

ANN: They all went to grad school in their fields at various places, but they still don't have any job experience because their internships wouldn't pay them.

CONAN: Interesting. Ann, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

ANN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Neal, could I just butt in?

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: So, Ann, there's a complication here, because let's say an employer says, well, you work for us for three months unpaid, and then we'll hire you. The Labor Department really frowns upon that because it looks as if the employer is squeezing the intern for three months of unpaid work, and the intern is, in a way, bribing the employer with three months of unpaid work to get a job. So, you know, the Labor Department frowns upon unpaid work leading directly to a job. They think that's a situation where employers can take advantage.

I think of the situation here in New York, where immigrant workers might have to work two, three, four weeks for free, you know, in a supermarket, stocking the shelves. And then if you're a good boy stocking the shelves for free for four weeks, then the employer might take you.

And that's a violation of the minimum wage law, and I think the Labor Department worries that the same situation can happen involving unpaid interns seeking a permanent job.

CONAN: And, indeed, the situation is different for not-for-profits and for-profit companies. It's a lot easier to get an unpaid internship at a not-for-profit.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes. When you donate your labor, so to speak, Neal, to a nonprofit, it's like considered - you know, it's like giving a donation to Human Rights Watch, a good organization. And you're not really in the same way allowed to, you know, quote, "donate" your work, donate your labor, for profit. The standards are different for doing - having an unpaid internship for a for-profit company and for a nonprofit.

CONAN: Here's an email from - this is from Dirk in Chico, California: As a retired university faculty member and the internship coordinator for a degree program, I believe students should learn something from the experience before they even begin work. The first thing to learn is that unpaid internships may indicate a field or a major with too many students and too few potential jobs.

That's an interesting way - observation. It's also - there are lots of unpaid internships where you do get course credit.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Neal, yes. A lot of - I mean, a lot of employers - well, the Labor Department often says that one hoop that employers can jump through to provide unpaid internships is to have the intern receive course credit. And that clearly makes it seem more educational, but it seems that more and more colleges are balking at giving credit for internships, especially when they conclude that the internships are, you know, drudgery and grunt work and really aren't very educational.

Some colleges seem happy to give credit, you know, for internships because they'll get paid maybe three, four, $5,000 for these credits when they don't even have to provide a professor, you know, to teach that student for those credits.

But other schools really think that employers are taking advantage or trying to pull a fast one, and they're very careful about granting course credit, you know, for some internships.

CONAN: There's also the question of - this seems to be one of the -well, one area of employment where a recommendation from the friend of a father or somebody's buddy, well, that can really pay off in terms of getting an internship at a prestigious institution, and that's obviously not an opportunity open to everybody.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes. In ways, I believe one of the most profound criticisms of the whole unpaid internship system is that, you know, generally, you know, the children of the well-to-do can afford to take an unpaid internship far, you know, far more than, you know, children from lower-income or middle-income houses. So they have a leg up there.

Plus, the children of the well-connected often have, you know, have the best chance of getting internships. So they end up getting a leg up on the career ladder over less wealthy kids.

CONAN: We're talking about unpaid internships: a great opportunity, or an excuse to exploit young workers. Interns, employers, how it's working out for you. Tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The debate over unpaid interns dates back more than 60 years. The rules that govern today's internships came out of a Supreme Court decision in 1947. The court found in Walling versus Portland Terminal Company that in certain cases an employer can offer training, unpaid, without violating federal law.

Later, when the Labor Department put together its six-part list of what qualifies for an unpaid internship, it used the Walling case as its guide.

Today, we're talking about the life of summer interns and, in a tough economy, the debate over what work they should and should not do and whether they should be paid.

Interns, employers, how is working out for you? Call and tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Steven Greenhouse is with us, labor and workplace correspondent for the New York Times, the author of "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker." And Steve Greenhouse, the Supreme Court decision dating back to 1947 - the workplace has changed a little bit since 1947.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: It's changed a whole lot, Neal, as you know. The 1947 decision really involved blue collar workers who were really doing educational work about how to, you know, operate in a rail yard. And they weren't running real trains. They were kind of, you know, using dummy trains to learn how to do it.

You know, fast-forward to, you know, 63 years, to 2010, you know, the economy is much more white collar, and a lot of internships, yes, a lot are educational, but, you know, as you know, Neal, as I know, a lot of internships basically are like answering the phone, and they're really not very educational.

And the Labor Department put together the six-part test, which is really taken from this 1947 decision, and some of the criteria in the Labor Department test seem kind of outdated.

It says, okay, the internship experience is for the benefit of the intern. That makes sense, but it also says that the employer is not to receive any immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.

I mean, that's - you know, I've spoken to some, you know, employment lawyers who say that really goes very far, that you're expecting a company to provide an internship and not to receive any benefit whatsoever in return. I mean, they say that's a stretch, and a lot of, you know, employment lawyers are saying maybe it's time to update these Labor Department rules somewhat.

CONAN: Here's an email, this from April in California: I worked low-wage jobs in vintage clothing stores for many years, where most of our duties including steaming, hanging and straightening clothing. When I got a job last year for a vintage clothing e-commerce website as a copy writer, I was utterly shocked and embarrassed to find that the company's interns were performing the exact same menial tasks all day long for zero pay.

How the company or the interns saw this as anything other than slave labor was beyond me. I think the unpaid internship situation has gotten completely out of hand, and I've been waiting for the government to address this issue for some time now. I'm so happy this is finally being addressed.

And that, if you're doing steam-cleaning and hanging of clothes for no pay, I think you might have a case there.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: I would certainly agree, and I think the Labor Department would agree, Neal. What happens is the Labor Department says it wants to crack down, but it's really waiting for students or interns to step forward and complain. But very few students actually step forward and complain because they're scared, they're insecure, they're worried about offending their employer, they're worried about getting fired, they're worried about creating a bad name for themselves. They're worried about getting - let's say an intern wants to work in the movie industry, and he or she is not getting paid in an internship that involves carrying coffee and answering phones.

Well, if they complain that I should be paid for this internship, you can imagine how hard it might become next year and the year after, when this intern is applying for real jobs in the movie industry, and people have heard that this guy is a troublemaker, or this woman is a troublemaker, and let's not hire, you know, this intern.

CONAN: Let's go next to Sara(ph), Sara with us from Springfield in Tennessee.

SARA (Caller): Hi. I guess my situation isn't unpaid. I do have a little bit of pay coming at my internship, but it's part-time. So I average about 20 hours a week, no matter how much I actually work. If I work 40 hours' worth of work, I only get paid for 20.

But I guess my position is now is that I've been told that my position may become full-time, but I don't really know, and so I guess I'm kind of worried that if I start applying for full-time positions elsewhere, there's not going to be anything available, and they kind of have me in a position where they pay me very little, but I'm not getting full-time, and I kind of feel like I'm under-utilizing my skills.

And I guess I don't really know what my next step should be - if I should tell my employer, you know, I'm only going to be here for three months and then I'm going to start applying elsewhere, or...

CONAN: Well, you don't have to tell them when you start - you don't have to tell them when you start applying elsewhere. That's between you and somebody else, right?

SARA: Yeah, but at the same time, I just, you know, I don't want them to think that I would leave, you know, if I felt like there was a full-time position waiting for me at some point.

Right now, I just kind of feel like, you know, they talk about it, but I don't know if anything's actually coming.

CONAN: Steven Greenhouse, that idea of a full-time job waiting for you upon the completion of your internship, well, I think a lot of people are in that situation. They think there might be. They're hoping there might be, but who knows.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: No, absolutely. And I think many people are in Sara's shoes. They're working part-time and they want a full-time job. And I think Sara, you should make known to your employer that you're eager to work full-time, that you're dedicated, that it's hard to make ends meet on part-time work.

You know, the rules about internships are, you know, some can be unpaid, but those that are paid, you have to receive at least the minimum wage of, you know, 7.25 dollars - $7.25 an hour.

So if you're working, you know, 20 hours a week, you multiply that times the minimum wage, you should be earning at least that, and if they go up to 40 hours a week, and let's hope you get that, Sara, they'll then, you know, double your pay.

CONAN: So if you're being paid for 20 and working 40, that's a violation.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: If it doesn't compute to $7.25 an hour, yeah.

CONAN: Yeah, right. All right, Sara, good luck.

SARA: Thank you very much.

CONAN: All right, bye. Ann(ph) writes from Detroit: A friend's daughter worked as intern for a famous fashion designer and had to run errands all over New York City. On one of the outings, someone on a subway burned a cigarette into the intern's arm.

When she got back to the designer's office, she got scolded for taking too long - no sympathy for the incident on the train, no reimbursement for the subway, no money for the internship. Needless to say, she quit.

I think that's probably a good idea.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Was that a scene in "The Devil Wears Prada"? I can't remember.

CONAN: Well, it had to have been - I guess she could've reported the person for smoking on the subway, which is illegal. Let's go to Luke, and Luke's on the line from Nashville.

LUKE (Caller): Hi. Yeah, I have an internship this year as a lab tech in a small genetics lab, and I'm simply going into my senior year in high school, and I've had to compete against people getting their pre-med in Belmont and places like that.

And as you were saying earlier, the only way I was able to get this internship was because of a connection with the boss's son.

CONAN: And boy, that's - well, congratulations, Luke, and a lot of these highly prized internships, Steven Greenhouse, are very, very difficult to get.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Yes. I mean, unfortunately we have a very high unemployment rate, and unfortunately it's extremely hard for, you know, young Americans, 18, 19, 20, you know, 22, 23 years old, to find jobs. And they're put in this position where, well, I can't find a paid job, but the next best thing for my resume is to get an unpaid internship.

So we have, you know, college students, even some graduate students, sometimes competing with, you know, high school students for internships. And my sense, and tell me if I'm wrong, is that, you know, lab internships are among the best internships.

I think they're generally quite educational. Yes, they involve some grunt work, but a, you know, internship at a good lab, you have someone looking over your shoulder, helping to teach you, helping to learn to do things right in science and research.

CONAN: Luke, is that your impression?

LUKE: Oh, absolutely, no doubt. I'm learning to do things that I didn't even know existed when I got there. Now, I will admit, you know, I'm cleaning the freezer sometimes, but I'm really getting in there and doing a lot of good lab work too.

CONAN: I think even when you get a full-time job, if you should be so lucky, you have to clean the freezer from time to time.

LUKE: Yeah, certainly.

CONAN: Luke, good luck to you, thanks very much for the call.

LUKE: Thank you.

CONAN: And Steve Greenhouse, another article in the New York Times, not in yours but by Hillary Stout(ph), reported that in one case the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights recently auctioned media internships to help raise money for its cause. The opportunity to work unpaid went for some pretty big amounts - $2,900 at Vanity Fair, $9,000 at The Huffington Post, and an eye-popping $42,500 at Vogue.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Amazing. It shows that, you know, a lot of people with a lot of money want good internships for their kids because it's a sexy experience, and it also is important for their resume.

You know, what gets me, Neal, is, you know, we're seeing a lot of, you know, colleges and universities really making extra efforts to admit low-income and moderate-income students. They're greatly increasing the size of their scholarships, and that's wonderful.

But at the same time, I think this whole increase in the number of unpaid internships greatly favors the children of the well-to-do and the well-connected.

And so while on one hand you have colleges accepting, you know, more lower-income kids, a lot of them are losing out in this, you know, in this career race because they can't take these unpaid internships with -you know, in Hollywood or in law firms, you know, that they have to help, you know, their parents make ends meet and they spend their summers, you know, working for nine or 10 dollars an hour in a 7-Eleven. And on - you know, for their careers, it might be much better to work -to do an unpaid internship for an ad agency or a law firm or on Wall Street.

CONAN: Here's an email from Cassandra in Casper, Wyoming. As a political science major, I know I'm headed into a field where you - who you know is really how to get your foot in the door. Most poli-sci internships are unpaid. As a completely independent student who works full time during the school year to make ends meet, I don't have the funds to spend three months or a full semester not being compensated for the work I'm doing. As a result, I miss out on the networking opportunities and the hands-on experiences that are the bread and butter of this field. And that field is not the only one that works that way.

Let's go next to Jessica(ph), Jessica with us from Redmond, Oregon.

JESSICA (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Jessica. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

JESSICA: Oh, okay. Well, my experience is that after I had graduated with a degree in cultural anthropology (technical difficulties) studies, I had been a student at a school in Yemen during my undergrad and had taken an internship after graduating to go over. And what was supposed to be, you know - it was a stipend of $120, but I ended up working about 12 to 15 (technical difficulties) days with three other people in an office. And we made, you know, $125 a month. We had to share dormitory rooms with the students. And basically we were used as the administrative staff. There was no other administrative staff because what there was were non-English speaking and the school was a school for Westerners, so we ended up doing just about everything.

CONAN: And was it - I'm sure it was interesting. Was it worth the experience?

JESSICA: You know what, it was worth the experience and I ended up staying a year longer than my contract. I ended up staying three years, mostly because of the country itself, the friends that I made there. I learned a lot about life and about, you know, how to take advantage of a situation that's taking advantage of you and how to, you know, get the most out of things that you don't normally think that you're going to get something out of.

I met my husband there, so there's all that involved. But I'm now working for the parks and rec in Redmond, Oregon, and substitute teaching. And none of the skills that I thought that I was going to get out of it, Middle Eastern studies and my fluency in Arabic and that kind of thing, none of that.

CONAN: I was going to say, I didn't think Arabic came up much at parks and rec, but...

JESSICA: No, it doesn't. Not in central Oregon anyway.

CONAN: Well, anyway, interesting, Jessica. And stay with us. We're going to be talking about Yemen a little bit later in the program.

JESSICA: Oh, great.

CONAN: All right.

JESSICA: Okay.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

JESSICA: Mm-hmm. No problem.

CONAN: We're talking about internships at the moment with Steven Greenhouse, the labor and workplace correspondent for the New York Times.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And this email from Frank in Green Bay. Perhaps you could point out that in Europe and most of the rest of the world unpaid internships are illegal. They break minimum wage rules and in many countries would result in criminal prosecution of the employer. Obviously not Yemen, maybe. But Steven Greenhouse, do you know if that's true?

Mr. GREENHOUSE: I'm not - I think the rules in Europe are stricter. I don't know if they ban unpaid internships altogether. But I'm sure the rules are stricter, and you know, never say never. I can't say for sure that no European country allows unpaid internships or that they ban all unpaid internships.

But I think it's clear that, you know, for the past 10, 20 years, the Labor Department has paid very little attention to unpaid internships. And as, you know, the economy has worsened, more and more employers are turning to unpaid internships. You know, some, you know, as I said before, do it legitimately, to do real education. Others really see it as a good, quick, kind of hidden way to get grunt work done for free. And I think only in the past year or two is the government starting to pay attention to this.

I think a lot of, you know, parents, you know, are complaining that there's something wrong here, that their kids are having a hard time finding a paid job and that all these employers are willing to take them for free and have them do valuable work but are refusing to pay them.

CONAN: Jesse is on the line, calling from San Francisco.

Mr. JESSE CUTLER (Owner, JP Cutler Media): Hey, how you doing? My name is Jesse Cutler. I run an independent PR firm in San Francisco, and I cut my teeth in the music industry. And it's interesting because unpaid internships in the music industry have been, you know, going on for so long. And it's been kind of the only way that you can even find a position in any way. And I think what's happening out there right now is that people are losing their jobs and interns more and more are doing the jobs of people that had a full-time gig.

So I was at, you know, the age of 22, after graduating from a top 20 college, Oberlin College, with a 3.6 grade point average and kind of decided to get into the entertainment industry instead of doing politics, I was directing national PR campaigns for independent artists and was able to solidify coverage in national media outlets. So I really felt like I was a part of a team. And I did end up getting a full-time gig. And, you know, it was a low-paying gig but it was an amazing opportunity. I stayed with that company for seven years, and then for the past four years I've been running my own company. So I think...

CONAN: And I have to ask you, Jesse, do you have interns at your own company?

Mr. CUTLER: I, you know, I don't. I have one employee that I pay. And I just kind of am in a situation where I feel like it's important, you know, to still do the photocopying, I guess, is a good way to do it. So I haven't really taken on that kind of responsibility because I think having interns really - you have to be very dedicated to giving them a full-on experience. I'm not cool with them, you know, washing the door handles and stuff like that. So I think you really have to offer them a full experience and not be a waste of their time.

CONAN: Jesse, thanks very much and congratulations.

Mr. CUTLER: All right. Thank you very much.

CONAN: So long. This from Madeline(ph) at the University of Michigan: I'm an intern with the AFL-CIO this summer, working in Chicago. One thing I really like about my internship is they focus on education and networking. They shepherd us through the world of the labor movement and encourage us to make connections with people who might become mentors for us in the future. Nice to know the AFL-CIO also has interns, Steven Greenhouse.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: I'd like to ask Madeline, I hope the AFL-CIO is paying its interns. I don't know if Madeline wrote that in her email. You know, what Jesse said is interesting. My sense is in the movie industry and the music industry, it's almost universal to have unpaid interns. It's just par for the course. And, you know, it's so ingrained, it's almost grandfathered in.

You know, it's hard to imagine the Labor Department cracking down on those industries because that's how it's done. I remember when I was interviewing my big article on unpaid interns, someone said Steven Spielberg started out as an unpaid intern carrying coffee. So I think, you know, those are such sexy industries, people are eager to do those grunt jobs even for free.

CONAN: Well, Steven Greenhouse, thanks very much and we appreciate your time.

Mr. GREENHOUSE: Very nice to be here, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace correspondent for the New York Times. He wrote an article, "The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not," back on April 2nd.

Coming up, what could be the next Afghanistan. We'll talk about the growing threat from al-Qaida in Yemen. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan.

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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