Stop Treating Student Interns as Free Labor

Target: Kathy Hochul, Governor of New York

Goal: Tighten regulations on what constitutes an unpaid internship and give students the financial support they deserve.

Internships are often seen as great opportunities for students and college graduates wanting to receive hands-on job experience, develop new and relevant skills, and network within a field of interest. These positions are typically viewed as mutually beneficial, as interns get to establish a foundation for future careers, and supervisors receive an additional helper eager to learn for less. But, sometimes, these internships can become exploitative–especially when they are unpaid.

While interns are expected to engage in a series of mutually beneficial activities, many mentors take advantage of their position of authority. These mentors might have their interns completing menial tasks, such as retail work that they could get paid for at other companies, all under the guise of “educational advancement.” In this way, interns serve as a source of free labor, without receiving the proper training they need to advance their skills and knowledge in the chosen career field.

While there are different regulations throughout the U.S., in the state of New York, any unpaid internship must meet a total of several requirements to comply with regulations outlined by the Department of Labor. Included in these regulations is that unpaid internships are only legal if interns are considered the primary beneficiary. But this term is ambiguous. How does one determine who is benefiting more from the arrangement? There is little to no legislation regulating where the line gets drawn between what constitutes training and what constitutes free labor.

Between COVID related unemployment spikes, a recovering economy, and continually rising college tuition, students need financial assistance more than ever these days. Still, many employers are taking advantage of interns’ positions. As students look for internships hoping to learn more about a field and gain experience, they are often forced to choose between advancing their career and supporting themselves, both financially and as autonomous beings who believe their time and effort is worth something.

Students do not deserve this exploitation. Sign this petition to encourage at least minimum wage payment for student interns or stricter definition of what constitutes a “primary beneficiary” in the internship field.


Dear Governor Hochul,

Internships are a great opportunity for students dedicated to learning more about a field they are interested in potentially pursuing. This dynamic–of helper and helpee–automatically puts employers established in these fields in a place of power and, unfortunately, many employers abuse this responsibility. The majority of student internships are unpaid. While many of these internships provide mutual benefits for interns and employees, others exploit students as a free source of labor and have them engage in menial tasks irrelevant to their training.

In the state of New York, one of the several regulations governing unpaid internships is that they are only legal if interns are considered the primary beneficiary. However, there are no established laws regarding what, exactly, constitutes a primary beneficiary. So, even in cases where the employer is the sole beneficiary, there is no way to prove as much. Interns are forced to remain silent and accept no pay for a typically paid position for the fear of losing the hard-to-come-by opportunity.

These are troubling times for students and recent graduates all across the U.S. College tuitions are rising ever so persistently, and the chokehold COVID had on our economy is still affecting employment. We are asking you, Governor Hochul, to please consider making minimum wage salaries a requisite for all New York internships, or to enforce stricter regulations regarding the ambiguous term of “primary beneficiary.”


{Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Polina Tankilevitch

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