New York "Interns" Seek Unpaid Wages for Hard Labor
On November 15, 2011, a group of Brooklyn, New York residents filed a federal civil action against the Atlantic Yard Development Company LLC, Forest City Ratner Companies LLC, Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development and others, alleging that they should have been paid for work they performed pursuant to a pre-apprentice training program. The progam promised jobs to anyone, who essentially agreed to work for free on a building renovation project in Staten Island, New York.
The plaintiffs worked for two months for the developers and ultimately were not given the jobs that they were promised.
Incredibly, the developer's chief operating officer stated at a press conference that the agreement provided that the plaintiffs would work for free and that there was no guarantee of pay or union membership. According to the chief operating officer, "[t]hey knew it was an unpaid internship."
This situation highlights the problem with many so-called "internship" programs that are really operations which seek unpaid labor to perform real work. If, in fact, the individuals were not promised any benefits for working on the project, then what did they get in exchange for their hard work? Calling work an internship does not shield employers from having to pay workers for the work that they perform. The U.S. Department of Labor and New York State Department of Labor scrutinizes internships carefully to ensure that they satisfy the requirements of a legitimate internship. We previously wrote about these requirements in a prior blog dealing with unpaid internships.
Individuals must be paid for their work at the minimum wage, and are entitled to overtime pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a given workweek, under New York law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.