Open Letter to George Stroumboulopoulos Regarding Interns
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!
…But, you completely flubbed it.
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…
…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?
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…?
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?
“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?
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!”
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.
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.
“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:
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…”
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).
(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:ONTARIOOntario’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:
- The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school
- The training is for the benefit of the individual
- The person providing the training derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the individual while he or she is being trained
- The individual does not displace employees of the person providing the training
- The individual is not accorded a right to become an employee of the person providing the training
- The individual is advised that he or she will receive no remuneration for the time that he or she spends in training
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…
…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.
…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.
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)