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Photo: Pay Our Interns
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Protect Interns campaign is out to eliminate unpaid internships, among other demands

The campaign launched on National Intern Day is also asking for more data collection about internships, a $15/hr wage and the creation of an Internship Task…

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Thursday, July 29 was National Intern Day, and to commemorate it, the nonprofit organization Pay Our Interns (POI), announced the “Protect Interns” campaign.

The campaign is a multi-coalition effort to put pressure on the Department of Labor to end unpaid internships and four other essential requests. The group has joined forces with Joint Center, Next100, and Young Invincibles. 

POI, which was founded in 2016, and led by two formerly unpaid interns of color,  is the nation’s only organization dedicated to making sure that students of color have equitable access to professional career opportunities through implementing paid internships. 

Leadership at POI wants to reverse the Trump-era Department of Labor rule, which made it easier for interns to be hired, but not paid.

Secondly, the group also wants more data collection on internships, which are mostly unaccounted for and unregulated. Third, they demand that interns employed at the Department of Labor earn a minimum hourly wage of $15.00.

Lastly, the group wants to see the establishment of an Internship Task Force, similar to the Department’s Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship, with the intention of observing and preventing exploitation.

"The four requests we're making to the Department of Labor are a part of our ongoing efforts to improve the economic mobility and rights of young people," said Carlos Mark Vera, Executive Director at Pay Our Interns, in a press release. 

Vera emphasized that it’s important for the Department not only to “set a precedent” by paying their interns, but also set up a system of accountability. 

“This is particularly important for young and low -income interns of color, who we must stand up for and make sure their work is counted,” Vera said. 

A 2020 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers revealed that students of color are less likely to have paid internships. 

Researchers took surveys from more than 22,000 students from 470 colleges and universities in their 2019 Student Survey Report, finding that only 10% of all graduating Latinx seniors have had internships, compared with 71% of non-Hispanic white students. 

The report found that 10.2% of Latinx students are working at unpaid internships. 

Among the survey participants who have paid internships, 79% of them were non-Hispanic white students, and only 8% were Latinx. 

Some companies offer college credit instead of stipends, but POI and other advocates find the practice problematic, as many students cannot afford to take on more tuition debt. 

In a conversation with NBC News, Eric Feldman, associate director of the Washington office of Florida International University, said that paid internships are crucial, because without financial support, the candidate pool will be narrowed to those privileged to forgo the financial resources, or those taking on debilitating debt for the experience. 

The lack of paid internships among students of color has long-term consequences in the corporate world and for government policy. 

"This has negative impacts on diversity and inclusion for the organization hiring the interns and for the future employability of candidates who cannot find the means to apply," Feldman said.

POI’s campaign includes a petition that has already gained more than 31,000 signatures, as well as a letter sent to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, listing their four demands. 

“By not providing interns the same or similar protections as other individuals in the workplace, including monetary compensation — which allows them to support themselves and their families through those learning experiences — we risk creating generations of Americans who lack the experience, skills, and resources to be successful,” Vega wrote in the letter. 

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