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Employers Taking Advantage Of Unpaid Interns

By Kate Merrill, WBZ-TV
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WBZ-TV's Kate Merrill Kate Merrill
Kate Merrill is an Emmy award winning journalist for WBZ-TV News. She...
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BOSTON (CBS) – The ceremonies and parties behind him, Boston University graduate Kedzie Teller can’t wait to start his career. But with the economy still weak, jobs are scarce.

“I want to go into digital marketing, says Kedzie, “but I’m willing do anything at this point.”

For Teller, that may mean an unpaid internship, an option traditionally reserved for students still in school.

“I kind of have a difficult time trying like to suck up my pride when I find out my work isn’t going to be paid for,” he says.

As painful as that may sound, career experts like Michelle Roccia of Winter Wyman say there is no substitute for the kind of experience internships can provide.

“I think that the academic experience alone is just not enough,” says Roccia.

“Most schools and most employers are stressing how important that you were out in the real world and gaining experience in your field,” says Kedzie. “Employers sort of see that as an opportunity to take advantage of students who need the experience.”

And we’re not just talking about college students. A 40-year-old man thought his internship on the set of the Black Swan was the ticket to a career in movies; instead he felt the studio was using him for free labor. He sued for minimum wage violations.

A 28-year-old intern filed a similar suit against Harper’s Bazaar magazine.

Boston labor attorney Denise Murphy says the federal Fair Labor Standards Act lays out specific criteria for unpaid interns. The bottom line is the internship program should benefit the intern, not the employer.

“When you start taking dictation and going to get coffee, you know you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing as an intern,” says Murphy.

And now a new survey is questioning the benefits of these unpaid positions. The National Association of Colleges and Employers found unpaid interns ended up with lower starting salaries than those who didn’t work an internship.

Kedzie would be happy with ‘any’ starting salary. For now he’s looking for a second job to cover his expenses.

“I have bills to pay now that I live in an apartment off campus,” he says. “This is the real world now, I just do what I have to do.”

A tough lesson for any new graduate.

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