(Flickr user JMacPherson)

Open Letter to George Stroumboulopoulos Regarding Interns

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I caught your show last night, (George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, season 4, Ep 17) and my interest was definitely piqued by the panel section (approximately 14min and 40sec for you following along at home). You decided to tackle the issue of unpaid interns, good on ya!

george show screenshot

…But, you completely flubbed it.

I am disappoint.

Things seem to be going well for you…Do you remember me? We lived on the same street for 3 years… You kind of hit on me when I asked you a question about getting a motorcycle license… I nearly ran you over on my bike several times when you were showing your motorcycle to random people at 3am…

Hello, friend!

Hello, friend!

…Oh, that’s right…you never remember me, despite us being neighbours for years, and running into you several times a year at film & TV industry events (and re-introducing myself each time, naturally)… But hey, I’m just a member of Gen Y, we’re all just soft, interchangeable, slave labourers to you, right?

Whump wah.

Whump wah.

On your show lat night, you brought up a valid, timely issue… the issue of unpaid internships, and whether they are necessary, just, or exploitative. Now, how did you introduce this section?

“You know, on this show over the past ten seasons we’ve paid close attention to things in the natural world. We care deeply about the survival and sustainability of this glorious place, but now we talk about a species that is, well, on the verge of extinction. It’s quite tragic, it has no special skill, not even that fast, not everybody’s entirely sure what it provides to the ecosystem, but we care nonetheless. We’re of course talking about…the unpaid intern.”

Now, I’ve highlighted a few points in your opening statement that I’d like to address…but before I do, let’s give you the benefit of the doubt, and hear what you wisdom you have to impart on the subject…

Your esteemed panel of experts includes:

  • 1 radio host, “Humble Howard”
  • Local comedian, Kurt Smeaton
  • Local comedian, Leslie Seiler

Hmmm, not the best of authorities on the issue, but maybe, just maybe they’ve studied the data, looked at some studies, and have even read the recently published Report on youth employment by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives…?

The extremely qualified panel on all issues of employment law.

The extremely qualified panel on all issues of employment law.

Oh…no… They haven’t, you haven’t, and what follows shows that even if you had, you wouldn’t give a shit…

The ironically titled “Humble” Howard starts things off by remarking:

“I remember when you were an intern…now look at you!”

You explain that in the “early, early days of your career you ran an overnight radio show”…so, wait, you ran a show? As an intern? “More details, pls!” cry your audience’s critical thinking lobes…but you’ve already moved on, and used this tenuous anecdotal evidence to establish that an intern, any intern, can start at the bottom and rise to the top…Just. Like. You.

This is bullshit.

…but I digress. What other oeuvres can you and your panelists provide on the subject of illegal unpaid internships?

pannelist 1

“Humble” Howard goes on to explain that:

“…we gave them tasks we thought were commensurate with their experience”

…but isn’t the entire purpose of interning to gain experience? Surely, not to be assigned work “commensurate” with their current level of experience?

Dafuq?

Dafuq?

Well, let’s not let facts or logic get in the way of a rich, middle-aged Baby Boomer shitting on the younger generations, right? You stop him, thankfully, only to show that you are more than capable of shitting on the younger generation yourself:

…they are smarter, they are more connected, but they are SOFTER.”

You turn to one of your esteemed panelists:

“…do you think the current interns could handle what the old school days were like?”

…She responds with a heavily research-backed response of:

“…young kids today, if I may sound 80, are spending so much time like this *mimes texting*, and getting things handed to them I think it does them a little bit good!”

Panelist demonstrates what statistically backed research says "young kids today" are "spending so much time doing"...

Panelist demonstrates what statistically backed research says “young kids today” are “spending so much time doing”…

Well, what are “young kids today” actually spending so much time on? Here are some real, data-backed answers:

  • Paying down the highest student debt in Canadian history: 
    • Between 1990 and 2010 average tuition fees rose from $1,271 to $5,139. In 2010, student debt exceeded nearly $15 billion, higher than the debt of some provinces…and it is still growing.
  • Desperately seeking employment:
    • The 2013 unemployment rate for Ontario Youth ranged between 16 and 17.1%. Higher than the Canadian national average of 13.5 to 14.5%.
    • Toronto’s youth unemployment rate is 18.1%, and it’s employment rate is only 43.5%…the worst in all of Ontario.
Hey, wait, let’s go deeper and examine the definition of “young kids.” Who is doing all that unpaid work?
Hmmm...

Hmmm…

The answer is pretty awful…

  • Statistics Canada keeps no records for internships, paid or unpaid… We have literally no idea who is working for free, or how many people are… But labour lawyer, Andrew Langille’s research shows there are likely between 100,000 and 300,000 in Canada alone not being paid for their work.
  • Even using the lowest minimum wage in all of Canada (Alberta, $9.95/hr) that is $398/week, and using the lower of Andrew Langille’s estimates, that is $1,990,000,000 missing from the economy.
Oh, F***!

Oh, F***!

So, George, let’s go back to your opening statement to your panel on unpaid internships, and break down those points I highlighted…

“You know, on this show over the past ten seasons we’ve paid close attention to things in the natural world. (1) We care deeply about the survival and sustainability of this glorious place, but now we talk about a species that is, well, (2) on the verge of extinction. It’s quite tragic, (3) it has no special skill, not even that fast, (4) not everybody’s entirely sure what it provides to the ecosystem, but we care nonetheless. We’re of course talking about…the unpaid intern.”

(1) You do NOT care about the survival or sustainability of “this glorious place” (let’s assume Canada). You do not seem to care that youth debt, and youth unemployment are scary high. You do not seem to care that at least $1,990,000,000/year is missing from the Canadian economy. How can a country with hundreds of thousands of slave labourers survive? Who will contribute to the EI and CPP funds and support the Baby Boomers as they retire and draw on health care? Certainly not those unpaid, life-long indebted unpaid interns.

(2) Are interns on the “verge of extinction”? NO. In fact, there has been a substantial increase in the number of unpaid internships in Canada, starting in the late 1990s. They are even moving out of the “traditional fields” of media, and journalism, and into “real” professions like software development, and into fields that have always been done with on-the-job training… like bus boys in restaurants.

(3) Interns have no special skill(s)? Let’s look at the (horrible) moment when you paraded one of your own slaves on the air:

Blake, a slave for George Stroumboulopoulos.

Blake, a slave for George Stroumboulopoulos.

George: “Who do you think benefits more in this scenario?”

Blake: “…In the long run, probably the intern…”

George: “Before you answer that though, remember, I’m your employer.”

Blake: “Hmmm…I beg to differ on that one…”

"I beg to differ..."

“I beg to differ…”

Way to go, Blake, for standing up to George’s outrageous, offensive bullying. George, you brought a human being (who you think is undeserving of minimum wage) out on your show, to humiliate him, and to bully him into agreeing with you, for fear of losing his “opportunity.” He had the guts to point out that only those with financial support from their families (aka, rich folks) can afford the “opportunity” that unpaid internships present… Your guffaw at that only highlights the point I made in (1).

And finally,

(4) ”Not everybody’s entirely sure what it provides to the ecosystem”…? How about this, let’s assume that “the ecosystem” is your tax-payer funded TV show that airs on CBC… Let’s assume that you have 3 unpaid interns working for you, filing, photocopying, or maybe just moving boxes (all a part of my 6 month unpaid internship in the film industry). So, 3 people working 40 hours a week, at Ontario minimum wage ($10.25/hr) would cost your show $1230.00/week. So what is the mysterious “unpaid intern” offering to your ecosystem?

It’s saving you money. Roughly $1230.00/week, or $61,500.00/year.

And hey, the only trade off is you have to be OK with slavery and breaking Ontario’s labour laws:

ONTARIO
Ontario’s Employment Standards Act states that all employees must be paid at least the Ontario minimum wage ($10.25 per hour for most employees).  An “employee” includes a person who receives training from an employer.  A person is not considered an employee if these six conditions are met:
  1. The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school
  2. The training is for the benefit of the individual
  3. The person providing the training derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the individual while he or she is being trained
  4. The individual does not displace employees of the person providing the training
  5. The individual is not accorded a right to become an employee of the person providing the training
  6. The individual is advised that he or she will receive no remuneration for the time that he or she spends in training

misc-are-you-fucking-kidding-me

George…how did we get here? You were awesome. It was the 90s, you were young, and you stood up to the big bullshit media…

NoShirt

…and now you are the big bullshit media. You are the old, rich guy with his boot on the neck of the youth. Giggling as you parade them on your tax-payer funded show, forcing them to dance for the possibility of opportunity.

…You, sir, are a trafficker of hope, and a bully.

angry-you-what-have-you-done

…You started in the entertainment industry because of your love of music…I’ll try and wrap things up with a piece of advice from singer-songwriter, Billy Bragg on the topic of cynicism and losing your values:

…Look, I hope that you re-evaluate your position on the matter. I hope that you realize that cheap, clichéd jokes that mock young people, their laziness, and how they could never work as hard as you, are just that… Cheap and clichéd, and that there are far bigger, more unpleasant truths to the issue…like how many, many employers will gladly trade their employment ethics to save a few dollars…

Maybe you’ll listen to me, maybe not…but you may just remember me the next time we bump into each other.

Best,

Claire Callway

***

This blog post was originally published on Look at Your Life…Look at Your Choices. It is republished here with permission.

(Feature image by Flickr user JMacPherson)

  • Colin

    Really? Using shock titles like “Generation Fucked”, and then proceeding to convey your information through memes? Who is the comedian now?

    Suggestion: Don’t use shock titles or memes in your articles. It makes you look unprofessional and immature.

    • contactriotwire

      Approved

    • Randy BK

      A little arrogant are you Colin ?

    • Mandy

      I thought the ideas were well expressed and succinct.

  • Lysander Spoons

    Slaves? Old rich guy with his boot on the neck of the youth? Seriously? Are these positions not voluntary? If these kids don’t find value in the position, then why not use their current experience and apply for a paid job? Don’t have enough experience? Then do an internship! What a load of intellectual pablum. This article is straight non-sense on stilts.

    • DryDry

      Shadowing someone on their job is one thing. Performing the actual job for nothing is outrageous.

      You don’t think the f*cking CBC or a f*cking production company or a f*cking ad agency or whoever the f*ck can’t afford to pay a kid 10-15 bucks an hour? They’re just not paying them because they can get away with it.

      Christ – ad agencies bill clients for hours art director or copywriter interns work on their business. They make money off the interns. And they can’t pay the intern? F that.

      • contactriotwire

        Approved

      • Lysander Spoons

        I still don’t see how this is slavery? This is a voluntary agreement between consenting adults. Nobody has a gun to their head to accept these internships. These interns obviously find value in working unpaid for a 3-6 month period in hopes of gaining valuable experience and contacts in their chosen industry or profession. If they feel with their current level of experience that they can obtain employment for $10-$15 in their chosen industry, they are free to compete with other applicants for that job opening.

        If at the end of the agreement CBC decides “Hey we need to hire this kid or he will find work elsewhere, potentially with a competitor.” Then they will offer him a position for $10-$15/hr. If the intern, after their 3-6 month experience thinks that $10-$15/hr is worth their time and labour, then they will accept.

        Asserting the value of a persons labour when entering into an agreement with an employer/contractor, is the business of those individuals involved. Not yours. And no amount of “f*ck”s and personal back stories about George Strombo not recognizing you several times, will change that.

        • DryDry

          I never said it was slavery. I’m saying it’s abhorrent and cheapskate.

          Kids DO have a gun to their heads because the system of gaining experience has deteriorated to this exact point today where someone like, say, you, thinks it’s perfectly okay for a company that makes money doesn’t have to pay people providing services to them under the bullshit guise of “gaining valuable on the job experience”.

          It’s bullshit cheapskating and exploitation of desperate young people. Bravo to you for supporting that with a “suck it up, youngster” as you shrug your shoulders.

        • Aporia27

          Consensual agreements can still be exploitative. Sweatshops, unpaid internships, unsafe working conditions, etc. etc. It’s Political Theory 101.

        • Gabriela Salvatore

          Except that the practice is illegal, so it doesn’t mater if people consent or not. Unpaid internships aren’t inherently illegal, but having people do labour that they should be paid for is.

      • rawryree

        Sure, but calling it slavery insults every human on this earth who’s a slave (it still exists in some places) or descendant of one. I’m pretty sure the emancipation proclamation wasn’t over some privileged intern positions.

        • Guest

          verb
          1.
          work excessively hard.
          “after slaving away for fourteen years, all he gets is two thousand”
          synonyms:toil, labor, grind away, sweat, work one’s fingers to the bone, work like a Trojan/dog;

    • contactriotwire

      Approved

  • TheJon

    THIS ARTICLE IS A JOKE. IF YOU WANT TO GET PAID, FIND A PAYING JOB DONT VOLUNTARILY ACCEPT A NON-PAYING ONE. CASE CLOSED. PERIOD. THE END. CAPITAL LETTERS.

  • Marlye

    Here is a story of an intern who died – LITERALLY DIED – for the “opportunity” to work as an intern:
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/intern-s-death-after-overnight-shift-sparks-outcry-1.1704532

  • Mark

    I’m sorry but this just falls in line with the rest of the Millennial generation……..entitled, whiny, and shifting blame on everything/everyone except yourselves.

    They are right, you are all “soft”, expecting the good life to be handed to you on a silver platter. You want to know what happened to George since the 90′s? He grew up.

    • DryDry

      Hey mr genius unpaid internships have been a festering zit on the ass of the workplace for decades.

      I’ve seen ad agencies bill out intern art directors and copywriters at hundreds of dollars an hour yet pay them sweet f all, as in zero.

      The ONLY reason unpaid internships exist is because companies know they can get away with not paying people for services rendered.

    • Jackie

      How is it entitled or whiny to say that people should get paid EVEN MINIMUM WAGE for the work they do? Would you have us dial back the clock a century or so?

  • rawryree

    My ancestors were slaves.

    And that didn’t mean they were interns on some TV show.

  • Carrie O’Marra

    I’ve been hung out to dry by some less than enlightened folks that can’t believe that unpaid internships are exploitation and I’m not a kid. I’m a 48 year old woman who had the audacity to go back to school in radio broadcasting. I’m getting my “Internship” hours with projects that are worthy like “Pet Rock Radio” and even a few paying gigs. I think Jian Ghomeshi might disagree with his CBC comrade about unpaid internships. I’ve had my say on unpaid internships on a CBC webchat and as new broadcasters etc. we need to boycott this archaic practice of “singing for your supper”.

  • Nancy

    I worked (interned) for a top fashion magazine in Toronto…there are only and both begin with F. And one of my friends and follow intern had a large plastic box fall on her nose and it break there instantly. She was bleeding, crying, in an incredible amount of pain and when the editor-in-chief saw her just walked on by without as if there was no injury. to make matters worse the editor-in-chief never called, emailed, text or inquired about her. I have witnessed homeless people in soup kitchens receive better treatment for hot soup mouth than what my friend received. Needless to say – she left that day.

    Do you want to be treated less than human work? Work for as a fashion magazine intern.

    Great piece Claire Callway.

    P.S George hits on anything halfway decent. He’s douche.

    • CarlySimon

      Just curious: Is English your second or third language?

  • Nancy

    Many internships are very labor intensive especially in the fashion magazine industry. You are carrying garment bags, sometimes boxes of clothing up and down stairs, to and from photo shoots. The money that many companies save from unpaid internships overrides the cost of bringing them on.

    Also many interns even if they did work hard, didn’t even get a letter of reference. I know of one producer from the CBC promised one of his interns he would be a reference for them when and months later didn’t answer her calls or emails.

    Unfortunately what has happened is that many good unpaid internships where you do learn a lot and gain valuable experience are just not around anymore. What is around are unpaid internships where the employer take advantage of the interns.

  • http://www.puppetvision.info Andrew

    Unpaid internships have been exploited by the film and television industry for decades. The primary motivation is almost always to save money and receive free labour, not create opportunities for young people in the industry. I say this having been on both sides of issue, working as an unpaid intern early in my career as well as more recently having supervised interns.

    I have sat in on a lot of meetings where people have suggested getting interns to save money on labour costs, but never one where the benefits to the intern were discussed.

    There are some good unpaid internships in the industry. You can develop good relationships and make great connections through internships but anyone who thinks the majority of companies offering unpaid internships are doing so for benevolent reasons is unbelievably naive.

  • Jackie

    Wow, that was pretty incisive. One might say interns are being objectified, but you just showed that even objects get treated better (!)