The Center on Policy Initiatives, or CPI, is one of the leaders locally in pushing to increase to the minimum wage in the city of San Diego.

And now, it is recruiting interns to fight for fair wages and increase the local minimum wage.

Scott Lewis on Politics Logo“The Organizing Intern will be supporting the Organizing Department with their campaigns around raising the minimum wage and low wage workers’ issues,” the job posting reads. The qualifications required of applicants indicate they’ll be doing some work on email programs and maybe even translating — not just learning.

Unfortunately, here’s the (non-)money quote:


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These internships are unpaid but are a great way to build your resume and get experience working at an organization that advocates for economic justice in the region. CPI can offer internships for course credit if it is available through your college campus. We are proud of our alumni and will gladly provide references for hard-working interns seeking employment or other internships.

Come support the push for a minimum wage. Just don’t expect a wage.

No, you don’t get any pay but you can turn into a “glitter unicorn for social justice” according to CPI’s Facebook page.

Who doesn’t want to be a glitter unicorn?

CPI says it will have both unpaid and paid interns working on the effort.

The irony, of course, is that as the minimum wage increases, paid internship opportunities will be reduced.

The national push to eliminate unpaid internships has been extraordinarily swift and effective. Voice of San Diego’s internship program is paid and has been for a many years now. I do see the value in occasionally bringing on interns from whom you don’t expect any productivity but who you’re willing to expose to how things work.

In other words, I get that there’s a place for unpaid internships.

But working to raise the minimum wage doesn’t seem like that place.

Update: Clare Crawford, the executive director of CPI posted this response on Twitter, which I’ve collected here:

Our main intern program is full time for summer and pays city of SD living wage (going to $15 this yr). We have a small unpaid program for college students designed by the student with their staff mentor and they can get credit and it’s designed for their learning experience. For essential work, we hire staff.

Here was the description of work of the unpaid organizing intern:

cpiscreenshot2

    This article relates to: Government, Minimum Wage, News, Politics, Scott Lewis on Politics

    Written by Scott Lewis

    I'm Scott Lewis, the editor in chief of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

    35 comments
    Rex Edhlund
    Rex Edhlund subscriber

    I'm not sure why this got Scott into hot water, it doesn't seem very argumentative. Mostly just a look at the concept of irony.  As I type this, to add to the discussion on being paid versus not being paid and how little is too little if being paid, I keep noticing the glaring button that insists that I "Donate now". Oh, how meta.


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    Julio Rivera
    Julio Rivera subscriber

    It is more than a little unfair to single out one organization for using a widely accepted practice. Internships can be a valuable experience where students gain vital professional skills for their future careers. Internships are an investment for both the intern and the organization providing them. And yes, at some point everyone needs to be taught how to do "data entry." The practice of unpaid internships may be in a state of flux, but having first hand experience as an intern at CPI I can tell you that the skills I was taught have helped me in my own career. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it to students who are seeking experience and their own professional development.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Now I get it.

    "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

    How silly to think the words on the CPI website actually mean what they say.

    Sorry but you guys are really ridiculous on this one.

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    Of course, but I'd like to see more data on this, not just anecdotes such as yours and mine, and I think studies will be coming soon.  I hear a lot of people making strong statements about the effect of increases in minimum wage and I want analytics.

    Jose Rodriguez
    Jose Rodriguez subscriber

    Hi Scott, 

    I was one of the lucky CPI Summer Interns a few years ago and can say that their program has led me to where I am now. Their Internship program has provided dozens of people like myself the opportunity to network in the progressive/union arena and work on social and economic justice causes which is what some of us deeply care about. They are an amazing organization with phenomenal staff and deserve much more respect than your article provides them. 

    Lastly, this isn't news worthy. It only further diminishes the credibility of the "Voice of San Diego" 

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    It's great you think you got value in your relationship with the organization. The issue is what if someone believed working for $5/hr would give them great relationship? Minimum wage laws outlaw that. They rob people of freedom.

    Center on Policy Initiatives
    Center on Policy Initiatives subscriber

    This is not a story – it is a contrived “Gotcha” moment. Scott Lewis read a Facebook post that could have been better worded, jumped to his own conclusion, and didn't even bother to call or email us to comment before publishing his piece.


    The reality is that during the school year CPI provides internship mentoring and training for students, to equip people with practical skills to build careers. Each student works closely with a mentor on CPI's staff, so the small number of interns fluctuates as staff members decide whether they can take on the time-consuming responsibility of guiding a meaningful internship experience.  This program is designed based on the laws governing internships.


    Our main internship program, Students for Economic Justice, pays the City of San Diego Living Wage ($14) and we will be raising it beyond that wage to $15 per hour this year.


    We are extremely proud of our history of training and developing young people to be leaders in San Diego.


    We have called and emailed with Voice of San Diego on a number of occasions, so we know they have our contact information. We just are not sure why they chose not to use it this time.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Center on Policy Initiatives 

    " The reality is that during the school year CPI provides internship mentoring and training for students, to equip people with practical skills to build careers. Each student works closely with a mentor on CPI's staff, so the small number of interns fluctuates as staff members decide whether they can take on the time-consuming responsibility of guiding a meaningful internship experience.  This program is designed based on the laws governing internships."

    Meaning you screen them unpaid first? Appears so.

    Your not clear here or evasive.

    Do you have unpaid interns?

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Center on Policy Initiatives @Mark Giffin 

    Well its from your site and specifically says internships 

    http://www.onlinecpi.org/internships

    And under compensation .....

    These internships are unpaid but are a great way to build your resume and get experience working at an organization that advocates for economic justice in the region. CPI can offer internships for course credit if it is available through your college campus. We are proud of our alumni and will gladly provide references for hard-working interns seeking employment or other internships.

    HOURS: Hours are flexible, but interns are expected to work anywhere from 10-20 hours a week.

    They are interns....they are unpaid......and are expected to work.

     

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    What does VOSD pay its interns?

    kirstenclemons
    kirstenclemons subscriber

    CPI's internship program provides students an opportunity to gain valuable experience and job skills for those looking to build a career in the social justice movement.  The exposure they get and the relationships they form throughout the internship are invaluable.  I worked closely with CPI and many of their interns for almost 2 years.  In that time, I have known many that have found permanent jobs because of their internship experience at CPI.  


    This is entirely different than a for-profit company who brings in unpaid interns to complete essential work in order to avoid paying employees.  CPI's internship program is:  1)  short-term.  There is a start and an end date versus companies who will allow unpaid interns to perform essential work as long as the intern stays because it saves money, 2)  supplements, does not replace, the core work of the organization.  Based on my observations, CPI's internship program is primarily intended to provide the intern with an opportunity to learn and grow, not complete essential tasks of the organization.  The staff at CPI work incredibly hard and, with or without an internship program, they would continue to ensure the essential functions and goals of the organization are met.


    Comparing this internship program to a minimum wage job is like comparing apples to oranges.  Minimum wage workers perform essential functions for, in most cases,  a for-profit company.  And, many minimum wage workers are not in the job solely to learn about an industry or gain experience- they are simply try to get by and make ends meet for their families.  

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis moderator administratormember

    @kirstenclemons you pay your interns at the Labor Council, right? The description includes data entry. Making calls. Those seem like essential tasks.

    kirstenclemons
    kirstenclemons subscriber

    @Scott Lewis @kirstenclemons The primary internship program at the Labor Council, like CPI's as stated above, is a paid program.  


    When I worked for the Legislature, I ran an unpaid internship program out of our District Office for 6 years.  We carved out duties and created opportunities for our interns in order to give them a robust and meaningful experience.  For example, our interns frequently assisted the staff in organizing and hosting constituent events.  These could be considered essential functions of a legislator's office.  However, with or without the interns, these events would have happened.  The difference is we created ways for the interns to be involved for their benefit.  


    As I said before, I believe the same is true with the CPI Internship Program, based on my observations.  However, I think someone from CPI would be the best person to speak to what is or is not an essential function in the organization.  

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    You're just creating phony distinctions. Organizations have interns because it helps their business. This is true with for profits and non profits.

    Adults should be able to decide how they invest their time and work. Maybe they work for free to gain experience? Maybe they actually pay to do work like at a school? This is called freedom. The CPI is arrogant to tell others how they should live.

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    "The irony, of course, is that as the minimum wage increases, paid internship opportunities will be reduced."

    You have evidence to support this statement?

    Personally, I am not a fan of unpaid internships.  They should all be paid minimum wage.  Yet, I see people lining up for them because they believe they are resume builders, and I am sure many do provide excellent experience.

    But does minimum wage take away paid opportunities?  I'd like hard evidence; I'm suspecting conjecture.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis moderator administratormember

    @Janet Shelton I have my own experience. As the minimum wage rises, we'll have to decide whether we can keep two paid interns or not. I will make every effort to, but to just assume businesses and orgs will have the money to be able to do that is misguided, I think. And perhaps it is better for society that there be fewer entry-level opportunities but let's not pretend they won't be affected by minimum wage hikes.

    Finally, I know CPI took issue with this study but it does show a decrease in opportunities for entry-level work as minimum wage increased. 

    http://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/12/20/the-unpopular-consequences-of-raising-the-minimum-wage/ 

    http://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/12/23/measuring-minimum-wage-impact-demands-a-wide-lens/

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    @Scott Lewis @Janet Shelton The question would be whether you could pay interns at minimum wage instead of above it as you now do and attract interns.  Of course, your business model is different from mine.  When the minimum wage began to rise in Oregon where one of my locations is, I thought it would reduce net profit. It's one of the highest in the nation.  In fact, I have a more stable workforce and higher profits, and I have hired more people.  That is true when I go back over the past 22 years in business and compare similar periods where the economy was roughly the same.  This changed my views, and I am hoping to see more studies on this soon.

    We used to pay more at entry level, and businesses did just fine.  In 1967 I was hired at 16 with no experience for $1.60 an hour.  That would be about $10.90 today.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis moderator administratormember

    @Janet Shelton @Scott Lewis I wasn't claiming that businesses would not be able to handle increases in compensation. I was saying it would have to, at some point, limit how many people they actually paid that. Everyone stops hiring at some point.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    Ever heard of "Volunteer"? I do all of my economic and social justice organizing as a volunteer and have done so for over 10 years now. I have had distinct duties in various capacities over this decade+, including representing the Coalition to Decommission San Onofre before the CA Public Utilities Commission.

    These unpaid college interns for CPI are volunteers. I don't see the hypocrisy at all.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    Do these distinctions have anything to do with wages?

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis moderator administratormember

    @Martha Sullivan for one thing, it's about expectations. You can't tell a volunteer, for example, something like what CPI says in it's internship post: "Hours are flexible, but interns are expected to work anywhere from 10-20 hours a week." Volunteers cannot be expected to perform any minimum like that.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    Volunteers can and do ... E.g., docents at museums, ushers at performance venues, and volunteer members of government boards and commissions. Listing an expected range of hours helps prospective volunteers evaluate whether a volunteer opportunity is a good fit for their schedule.

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    Charitable organizations do not necessarily receive donation increases commensurate with minimum wage increases. CPI cannot afford to pay all the people they need the minimum wage.


    Minimum wage increases tend to displace young people. CPI's unpaid internships give back to displaced young people by providing  work experience: opportunities that can lead to a paid position that pays the minimum wage or hopefully more.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis moderator administratormember

    @Sean M Actually, one of the big arguments against unpaid internships is that only the wealthy are able to participate in them. In fact, the movement against unpaid internships has been led in large part by the Economic Policy Institute, which is a partner and sister organization to the Center on Policy Initiatives. 

    The Economic Policy Institute coordinates the Economic Analysis and Research Network, of which CPI is a part. 

    http://www.epi.org/publication/epis-work-unpaid-internships/

    http://www.earncentral.org/


    EPI calls unpaid internships a "scourge" on the labor market. 

    http://www.epi.org/blog/unpaid-internships-scourge-labor-market/


    Pro Publica has done excellent research on the whole issue. 

    http://www.propublica.org/article/what-we-learned-investigating-unpaid-internships

    C92109
    C92109 subscriber

    This is absolutely hypocritical. It doesn't sounds like the unpaid experience is an educational opportunity for the intern, but the chance for CPI to get free labor. 

    If the intern is calling community members, providing data entry, and "other organizational support," they're more like an entry-level employee and should be compensated as one.

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    @C92109 


    And "grass-roots" initiative/referendum/recall petition campaigns, representing "the will of the people," should pay gatherers per signature for persuading people to sign?  No.  People who believe in a cause should be willing to help that cause without being paid for it, IMO.

    C92109
    C92109 subscriber

    @David Cohen @C92109 I agree that people who believe in a cause should help without being paid. However, this sort of opportunity should be advertised as such a volunteer position - not internship. An internship, by definition, is a period of undergoing practical instruction or training in one's job or career.


    This sort of intern experience looks to be unchallenging busywork that an organization would rather not assign to staff.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    Unsurprising hypocrisy. 


    The root issue is FREEDOM. Freedom for adults to engage in relationships *they* deem beneficial. Those relationships could be cooperating with anyone: a church, a non-profit, a political party, a neighbor, friend, and yes a for-profit business. 


    If people want experience, I happen to believe actually doing a productive job at a for-profit corporation is optimum. That is infinitely better than college credits because the market has indicated they will pay money for that work product. College credits are one of the worst experience paths because they're DOUBLY expensive: you must do assigned work and also PAY MONEY to get them.


    I've had interns at my high tech companies go onto get 6 figure jobs in the tech industry. I've had others watch how I start businesses and emulate that starting their own high tech business. They got no college credit. They did real work and did not get paid (at least initially). It proved a wise and profitable life choice for them. Yet others want to take it away. 


    Go read Kelly Davis of CityBeats twisted view of how she's OK with certain organizations (like her's) offering unpaid internships. https://twitter.com/vosdscott/status/560248477532172288

    But she wants to substitute her judgment for others. Meaning she believes she can decide what is valuable experience and wants to over-ride others freedom. 


    Why not let consenting adults decide how they want to expend their time and energy? 



    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Hey, look at it this way:  It's great training to become a Community Organizer, and that can lead to.......

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    My son was an unpaid intern that worked for a Somali assistance organization in City Heights. Not unusual from what I understand in that field.

    He loved it. He got a lot out of it.

    Does seem a little ironic though in this case.

    Perhaps they should pay them to be signature gatherers.