Rather than risk alienating your boss with a messy and expensive lawsuit that might go nowhere (cf. these interns and these interns and these interns), the unpaid interns of America have another, safer option: Write a letter to the editor. That's what The Nation's interns did — and it worked. Responding to a recent article about journalism's lack of diversity, the literary bunch wrote a letter to the editor asking the progressive political magazine to pay interns "living wages." Up until then, The Nation's interns only got $150 per week. After the letter, however, the publication agreed to pay them minimum wage starting this fall.
That, of course, is the best possible outcome for an unpaid or underpaid intern seeking better compensation for her labor. A lawsuit usurps a lot of money and time, and could ruin one's potential career in that field. A letter is less risky, even if it potentially has little force behind it.
The Nation interns, however, happen to work at a progressive institution that already wanted to pay these kids more. "We’ve been trying to raise money for a long time to raise the stipend, and we’re really thankful that the interns wrote that letter and gave us a little push," Nation executive editor Richard Kim told MSNBC's Ned Resnikoff.
The letter apparently nudged some donors to give money to The Nation's internship program. In its initial response to the letter — before the wage hike announcement — The Nation Institute included this plea as it reiterated a commitment to finding interns housing and travel grants: "This will put additional effort on our fundraising for the program, so we urge readers to donate directly to the Victor S. Navasky Internship Program," write director Taya Kitman.
Such tactics are unlikely to work at corporate behemoths. But if you intern at a warm and fuzzy progressive magazine that has written about how the intern system might not be legal or just, a letter might be worth a try.
Image via Shutterstock's Luna Vandoorne.