Free Labor For Me, But Not For Thee

Government bureaucrats think it is their business to prevent individuals from entering voluntary contracts with companies or organizations if the level of compensation does not meet some arbitrary threshold. Congress has used minimum wage laws to prevent certain arrangements, while the Department of Justice has a set of rules detailing when unpaid internships are considered legal.:  Naturally, these rules do not apply to government.

At CEI’s Open Market, Brian McGraw points to these rules from the DoJ that won’t apply for the currently advertised unpaid internships at the White House:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Yes, number 4 really does say that it’s legal only for a corporation to use unpaid interns if they are counter-productive. No such restriction will apply for the White House, though, as “Unpaid internships in the public sector and for non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible.”

It is obviously hypocritical for government to restrict the use of unpaid interns for others, while at the same time everyone knows that Washington thrives on the practice. But there is no good reason for these restrictions on anyone. Individuals that enter into unpaid internships do so because they will receive something in return, usually training and experience to add to their resumes, that they value more than their labor. They would not take the position if this were not true. Like most government actions designed to protect people from themselves, prohibiting individuals from entering into voluntary unpaid internships actually harms them by limiting their opportunities.

Cross-posted at Conservative Compendium.

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Brian Garst

Brian Garst

Brian Garst is the Director of Government Affairs for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a non-profit think tank dedicated to preserving tax competition and free markets. He also blogs at BrianGarst.com.


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