NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — For employers who rely on unpaid interns, it’s been the summer of reckoning.
Hundreds of interns have filed lawsuits or raised complaints over working long hours for free. But one group of former interns is sidestepping the courtroom and going straight to the White House to fight for fair compensation.
The Fair Pay Campaign, a grassroots lobby set to launch around Labor Day, is calling on President Obama to pay White House interns in order to set an example for other government agencies and private employers.
“We have a minimum wage law in this country, and just because you call someone an intern doesn’t mean you get out it,” said Mikey Franklin, the leader of Fair Pay’s charge.
According to the White House website, its internships are unpaid, housing isn’t provided, and interns should expect to work “at least Monday-Friday, 9 am-6 pm.”
The campaign’s focus has turned to President Obama as he has been stumping for raising the minimum wage all summer.
“We don’t believe the White House can, in good faith, go after minimum wage and at the same time have unpaid staff.”
The biggest issue Franklin sees, at the White House and any place not paying interns, is that working for no pay seems unimaginable, particularly as student loans skyrocket and more young people are forced to live at home. It creates a situation where only a privileged few can afford to work in these prestigious jobs.
“If you want to break into these industries, you have to work for free,” he said. “That’s not a reality for a lot of people who aren’t upper middle class.”
The vitriol over unpaid internships has gotten stronger, as a number of high-profile instances over the last year have caught public attention.
Last week, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization caught heat for advertising an unpaid internship position. The posting garnered more than 300 comments and even spurred a Change.org petition that called on the non-profit to pony up and pay.
In June, a federal court ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated wage laws by not paying its interns. The same month, 189 interns who once worked for Charlie Rose and his production company were given about $1,100 in back wages after they brought a lawsuit against the newsman for not paying them.
This past February, an intern filed a $50 million lawsuit against Elite Model Management for violating wage laws, and former interns from Hearst Magazine, Atlantic Records, the website Gawker and Warner Music Group have filed similar suits.