Interns, Connect! A Forum on Upsetting Unpaid Work

Moderated by Sara Mojtehedzadeh, Toronto Star

Celebrating the publication of Interrogating Internships: Unpaid Work, Creative Industries, and Higher Education, a special issue of tripleC

Presented by Cultural Workers Organize in partnership with the Canadian Intern Association and the CWA Canada Associate Member Program



Thurs. Sept. 24, 2015

The Garage at the Centre for Social Innovation Annex
720 Bathurst St.

Free and open to the public | snacks and refreshments will be served


Making connections on LinkedIn is no substitute for solidarity in a precarious labour economy. In a job market where we skip from project to project, contract to contract, employer to employer, we adjust our collective behaviour to unstable work. Interns, often working without pay and social protections, are among the crowded frontlines of precarious employment. The intern slogan, “getting a foot in the door,” is a wager. Cynical resignation to unpaid work is widespread. And reluctance to speak out is understandable in a hyper-competitive labour market regulated by reputation.

And yet, interns and their allies resist. They challenge employers, pursue lawsuits, take direct action, propose policy, and use social media to expose exploitation. But the state of the intern economy is mixed. The Ontario Ministry of Labour recently launched a new “blitz” to crack down on illegal internships—but this is a short-term effort. The momentous legal victory of interns against the media giant Fox Searchlight was stalled in 2015. Intern activist groups are spreading, but connecting interns who are dispersed is a major challenge.

What’s the state of the intern issue? How do internships connect to the wider precarious labour economy? Are colleges and universities part of the problem or the solution? While internships have grabbed headlines, whose experiences of unpaid work aren’t being talked about enough? How does the informal economy of “connections” reproduce social inequality in the world of work? What strategies for connecting interns and improving internships are effective? How might unions connect with interns?

Join us to explore these questions with interns, activists, lawyers, and researchers. Brief presentations will be followed by a Q & A and discussion.

Carlo Fanelli is Visiting Professor at the Department of Politics at Ryerson University. His research focuses on work and labour market restructuring, urban governance, and public sector austerity. Carlo serves as editor of Alternate Routes: A Journal of Critical Social Research, and his book, Megacity Malaise: Labour and the Struggle for Public Services, will be out in the new year.

Ella Henry has been involved in activism around unpaid internships as Co-Chair of Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams. She has a Bachelor of Arts from St. Thomas University and a law degree from the University of Toronto—although as a student she likely spent more time on student activism and union organizing than being a student. She is currently articling at a union-side labour law firm.

Deena Ladd is one of the founders and a coordinator at the Workers’ Action Centre. WAC organizes to improve wages and working conditions with women, racialized, immigrant, and low-waged workers in precarious jobs that face discrimination, violations of rights, and no benefits in the workplace.

Andrew Langille is a Toronto-based labour lawyer and acts as the General Counsel for the Canadian Intern Association. His graduate work at Osgoode Hall Law School focused on the regulation of work during the school-to-labour market transition and formed the theoretical basis for law reform initiatives to increase workplace rights for interns. He has lectured extensively, both domestically and internationally, on intern rights, the impact of precarious work on young workers, and intergenerational equity. He blogs at

Katherine Lapointe is an organizer with CWA Canada, an all-media labour union. Katherine coordinates associate memberships in the union for student, volunteer, and precarious media workers. Her work focuses on setting up training and networking opportunities, raising awareness of worker rights, and doing advocacy work on issues that impact emerging media workers.

Josh Mandryk is the Executive Director of the Canadian Intern Association. Prior to this, Josh was Co-Chair of Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams, a coalition of students and youth who urged the Ontario government to take action on unpaid internship scams. In these roles, Josh has mobilized students through demonstrations, petitions, and public legal education, written op-eds in the Toronto Star, presented before legislative committees, and worked with elected officials to promote interns’ rights.

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is the Toronto Star’s Work and Wealth reporter.

Jainna Patel took part in a highly exploitative internship program with Bell Mobility in 2012. She left and fought her employer, claiming it was an illegal internship. Despite much hesitation, she decided to go public and hoped to educate and empower others in similar situations to be strong enough to walk away. In 2014, justice was served when the program was shut down.

Image credit: Fairooz Aniqa and the Student Union of the University of Arts London [CC-BY-2.0]