Monica Lewinsky was only an intern when she began a sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton in 1995.
That’s perhaps the first thing you know about Lewinsky (her being History’s Most Infamous Intern), but the last thing the media dwell on is that she was unpaid. Had her relationship with Clinton not been entirely consensual—it was, she stresses in this week’s Vanity Fair, but let this be hypothetical—she would not have been able to sue over sexual harassment, at least not until she moved into a paid position. (Washington, D.C., only recently passed a law extending such protections to unpaid laborers.)
More than 18 years later, the White House, perhaps the most prestigious internship a college kid can get, still doesn’t pay the 300 or so interns who pass through its corridors each year. And now it has added another unpaid gig to the table, in the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence (OPC) Associate Program, where “associates” work alongside staff and interns “for a minimum of 30 hours per week”—without compensation.
Freelance writer Stephen Lurie received the job listing in a Listserv email and took to Twitter, where it quickly drew the ire of labor activists and journalists:
Turns out, it’s not entirely new, though Lurie isn’t quite sure how long the position has existed. (The OPC didn’t reply to several requests for comment.) Unpaid internships are still the norm in D.C. culture, but the specter of an unpaid, mostly full-time position falling under a different label seems an ominous development—at least to Lurie.
“It’s just a reiteration of how there’s no way to square this free labor with the administration’s push for fair pay and equal opportunity,” Lurie said via email. Some took that op-ed as a conservative-minded hunt for hypocrisy, “but that’s far from the case. Having volunteered for Obama, I’m only interested in seeing his administration reflect his commitments,” he added.
Plenty has changed in media, politics and their intersection since Lewinsky’s day. Things have changed in the White House, too. Since Monicagate, interns are almost never allowed in the West Wing, Washington rumor has it, and they’re all required to sign a nondisclosure agreement, as several recent ones confirmed.
But those interns still aren’t paid, and they still overwhelmingly hail from families of power and influence—all the better to meet the cost of living in the District of Columbia while working unpaid. (Lewinsky, it should be noted, landed her gig thanks to family connections.)
Those same qualities are almost certainly true of this little-known, unpaid “associate” job. Anyway, if you’re interested, the deadline to apply is today.