The White House Should Pay Its Interns. Here’s Why

To Whom It May Concern at the White House:

I have three little words for you: Pay Your Interns. It is unconscionable for the White House — as for so many other “public” sector organizations — to engage in a practice that structurally reinforces privilege, closing off access to careers along the corridors of power from “the rest of us,” the very people whose voices are needed there most. (This is still meant to be a democracy, right?)

When Congress exempted itself and the rest the government from having to pay at least the same minimum wage required of the for-profit sector, perhaps it had something purposeful in mind. Perhaps “volunteering” in public service was seen in the light of civic engagement.

But the days when that principle characterized the role of unpaid internships in the public sector have long since passed. As internships have become required qualifications on résumés for those who aspire to the highest order of the people’s work, an internship at the White House only stands out that much more. In a true meritocracy, that would be a great distinction. But when such internships go unpaid, any civic purpose or mark of meritocracy is undermined. They instead become the markers of privilege and access — access that is denied to most Americans.

Insidiously, when the government gets into the business of deriving benefit from labor performed without fair compensation (or any compensation at all), it perpetuates some of the most pernicious problems facing our society. White House policy makers scratch their heads about what to do to address unemployment (which for young adults is in the double-digits, twice the national average), all the while perpetuating it by having needed labor performed for free. It not only uses its prestige to steal such labor, it sends the message that to do is not only fine, but even noble.

If nothing else, the June 11 ruling in the “Black Swan” case I brought to federal court against Fox Searchlight should signal this: There is nothing fine and noble about wage theft disguised as an “internship.”


Eric Glatt is one of the plaintiffs in a federal suit against Fox Searchlight over its use of unpaid interns for the movie “Black Swan.” A judge ruled that Glatt’s unpaid internship for “Black Swan” violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. Support fairness for White House interns by signing this petition.

Comments