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An Astros internship posting is causing some controversy

May 11, 2012, 11:00 AM EDT

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I didn’t think anything when I saw a post over at FanGraphs yesterday advertising an internship opportunity with the Houston Astros. The job is an IT thing, developing database software and all kinds of stuff I don’t know anything about.  It’s unpaid.

But when you get into the comments, there are a lot of people going off on the Astros over this, arguing that an unpaid internship for such a highly-skilled position that will produce a valuable, tangible product for them is unethical at best, and possibly illegal.  One commenter links to this article as a point of reference.

I know nothing about the laws in this area so I refer you to the commenters there and appeal to the expertise of others in the interests of assessing this.  I will say, however, that it’s long been the case that baseball teams have paid little if anything for top-shelf office talent, using the sexiness of a baseball team on one’s resume as a lure.  And the fact is, they can get away with it because there are thousands who would love the chance to work in baseball, even for peanuts or, in this case, less than peanuts.

Illegal? I dunno. Simply wrong? Possibly. But I bet they have no trouble finding someone willing to take the job for nothing, because that’s how it has always gone in front offices.

(hat tip to Alex for the heads up)

  1. fivetoolmike - May 11, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    I think making the receipt of college credit mandatory for internship participants is a way to circumvent laws regarding compensation.

    • The Baseball Idiot - May 11, 2012 at 11:11 AM

      There are a lot of highly skilled people with great qualifications who never finished college.

      Being a doctor is probalby not the best example of that.

      Being an intern doesn’t really apply.

      • fivetoolmike - May 11, 2012 at 11:16 AM

        Sure. I’m just commenting on the requirement listed at the bottom of the internship posting on Fangraphs, as it pertains to Craig’s post.

  2. The Baseball Idiot - May 11, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    If you guys offered an unpaid writing gig to some unknownblogger, a lot of people would consider it illegal. (Becasue they are do-gooders who have nothing better to do in their life than complain about something other people do).

    I, and most commenters here, would consider it a gift from heaven.

    Let them bitch and moan. Adults are allowed to make their own decisions, for their own reasons.

    Too many people in the world trying to tell to many other people how they should live thier lives.

    • fivetoolmike - May 11, 2012 at 11:13 AM

      Right, and the laws are there to offer a modicum of protection to young people who may not have the financial backing to take an unpaid “job” by allowing them some access to these internships. Also, the law is supposed to force the companies offering those internships to have some sort of investment in making the experience more meaningful than unpaid drone work.

    • mrfloydpink - May 11, 2012 at 2:40 PM

      There is a rather serious weakness in your argument, and it is this: The people who choose to take unpaid internships aren’t just making a decision for themselves. They are making a decision that distorts the labor market, and thus affects many others as well.

      I am sure the Astros will find someone to fill this position. And if they are able to do so, then the Reds or Cubs or Mariners or will decide they should be able to do the same. Then, next season, the Astros will fill the position again with free labor, and so will the other teams, because the market value of the skill set has been devalued. So, the person who takes the job isn’t just sacrificing themselves. Their choice has repercussions for similar workers in other cities and in other years. And that is why there are regulations in place.

    • cosanostra71 - May 11, 2012 at 4:11 PM

      I worked an unpaid internship for a professional soccer team in college. It was overall very good for me- I got a lot of experience, and I made a ton of connections. I know for a fact that it helped me get the position I work at now (which isn’t even in sports). However, a lot of hours for no pay is rough on anyone. And being in the IT industry now, I know that this position would take a TON of time. Database developer is a full-time job, and a difficult one at that. It requires a specific type of training, and that training is expensive.

  3. proudlycanadian - May 11, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    AA started off as an intern for the Expos and is now the GM for the Jays. He was rather unqualified, but had the opportunity to prove his worth and did so.

    • Tim's Neighbor - May 11, 2012 at 2:03 PM

      I used my experience as a lowly paid MLB team trainee to get into a top 25 law school. Even if you don’t stay in the sports world, it sticks out on a resume.

      In our economy, a lot of us coming out of college between the years 2004-now are getting passed over for “not having enough experience”, so anything helps. It’s not fair, but hey, neither is life. We can either bitch about it, or take what we earn (or luckily find) and work our asses off. I’d rather not bitch.

  4. alang3131982 - May 11, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    This is just bizarre. No one is forcing the eventual hire to work for nothing. Perhaps the experience is worth more than an actual pay check. Sure, it’d be nice to get paid as well, but if someone is willing to do it for free….

    • fivetoolmike - May 11, 2012 at 11:18 AM

      There are probably tons of people willing to do it for free. They have to eat, though, is the thing.

    • Ben - May 11, 2012 at 11:19 AM

      Yes, young people are being forced to work for nothing. Don’t have at least an internship or two on your resume by the time you’re 22? Good luck getting your resume through the door.
      The labor market has become coercive, and companies know this.

      • heyblueyoustink - May 11, 2012 at 12:24 PM

        “The labor market has become coercive, and companies know this. ”

        All markets are coercive, and why the hell wouldn’t you do an internship or two? It is why you’re paying someone to educate you, or at least have the right to buy their logo and put it on your resume.

        So, go through the internship, and find a way to make ends meet. It is a free country after all.

        Nothing about this whole thing bothers me personally.

      • b7p19 - May 11, 2012 at 12:33 PM

        “So, go through the internship, and find a way to make ends meet.”

        Sure, but it’s not that easy if the intership is more than just an 8 hours a day envelope stuffing position. The Astros (and maybe other teams, Astros are just the team highlited here) want an unpaid intern to fill a very involved position that may require more than just 8 hours a day. Tough to get another job to make ends meet in that situation.

        It’s just another example of the well-off having an advantage over those working their way up from the bottom. And thats fine, it’s the way it’s been forever. Doesn’t make it fair, just consistant.

      • tomahawkmike - May 11, 2012 at 2:43 PM

        It’s not fair, life is not fair. So we just throw our hands up and do nothing? We’ve already (sensibly) rejected equality of outcomes. So now we are not even going to make an effort at equality of opportunity?

  5. psuravens19 - May 11, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    Being a recruiting professional, I see unpaid internships all the time. Like alang said above, the experience is sometimes worth more than the money.

  6. Ben - May 11, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    The whole internship system is a scam designed to allow companies (and particularly NGOs) to expand their workforce without paying for it. Period. I know this because I lived it, but also an ex worked in HR at a major NGO. It’s the way the game is played, and it’s messed up.

    Internships are the new indentured servitude.

    • jimmyp70 - May 11, 2012 at 11:21 AM

      Exactly. You see the justification for college credit or connections or experience. Sorry, I’m just not buying that. It’s just a way for companies to get work done without paying health care, payroll taxes, and wages.

      • heyblueyoustink - May 11, 2012 at 12:30 PM

        You always have the choice not to work for that company then. no body is forcing you. it’s up to you to find another way around it, not bitch about the companies that practice that as you propose.

        Hard work and ingenuity is what this country was founded on, not finger pointing and complaining.

      • b7p19 - May 11, 2012 at 12:40 PM

        “Hard work and ingenuity is what this country was founded on, not finger pointing and complaining.”

        Are you sure about that? I mean, sure, hard work built this country, but who did the work and who got the credit for being the one that built it? Gotta go beyond the 10th grade history book.

        “You always have the choice not to work for that company then. no body is forcing you.”

        Right again, but more and more you DON’T have that choice if you want any chance at getting a good job. It’s a catch 22 IMO.

        I do hear you though. If you want it, and thats the only way it can happen, then make it work. I just wish the field was a little more level for the youngsters climbing the ladder. Again, it’s just life, and thats fine.

      • 18thstreet - May 11, 2012 at 12:48 PM

        Slave labor built this country, and don’t you forget it.

      • heyblueyoustink - May 11, 2012 at 1:01 PM

        18th, if you go by that line of thinking, slavery built the world way before it built the U.S.

        And bp, it’s not too hard to go beyond the text books ( save the text books being engineered towards bias argument for another day ) to see either side of the coin.

        And without giving you an uninteresting paragraph Bio on myself, long story short, I know hard work and will overcomes any inequality, with willpower being the by in large paramount.

    • Joe - May 11, 2012 at 12:23 PM

      I work for an NGO that pays its interns. So once again a sweeping generalization can’t tell the entire story.

      However, many actually don’t have the budget to hire staff, but sure could use the help. And what they CAN offer is real-world experience and (usually) college credit. Those things have value. It’s not cash, it’s the barter system.

      In my experience, most people aren’t so in need of something to do that they will work a full-time job if there isn’t something in it for them.

    • heyblueyoustink - May 11, 2012 at 12:28 PM

      And like any other company, the high end of the payroll runs through sales. Support jobs are what they are, less pay but more security.

  7. term3186 - May 11, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    I don’t get the angst. If you don’t want the job, don’t apply for it. Last I checked the Astros weren’t going around holding guns to people’s heads forcing them to accept the offer. If you can’t afford to take this job, don’t apply. If you can afford to do this work for free and want to, go for it. BFD?

    • fivetoolmike - May 11, 2012 at 11:51 AM

      It’s not a BFD, but it’s a small part of the complex system of control that maintains the locuses of power with the already wealthy.

      Lots of small parts make a BFD, but you can only tackle the BFD if you start with the small parts.

  8. contraryguy - May 11, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    For what it’s worth the Reds posted the exact same qualifications in a job posting on that site. ( There’s probably one such posting for each team. One would have to think it’s MLB’s idea if all the teams are asking for this help; what are they building I wonder…

  9. hotkarlsandwich - May 11, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    I interned in IT for the KC Chiefs for a year. I would have done it for free just to get my foot in the door and gain valuable work experience.

  10. xpensivewinos - May 11, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    If the internship is being facilitated between the Astros and a specific school as an on-going internship program where school credits are being earned, that’s one thing, but the Astros and every other team and countless businesses outside of the sports world are simply looking for ways to get work done without having to compensate for it. If the teams stumble into someone really good, chances are they’ll hire them (for cheap, and then really using the allure of “working in baseball” sales pitch).

    What’s interesting to me is that the Astros would allow an unpaid “stranger” with no ties to the team whatsoever, access to all of the most pertinent information flowing through the organization. That seems a bit odd, doesn’t it?

  11. proudlycanadian - May 11, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    Craig started out as a part time unpaid blogger. Now he has his own studio and gets to trade air kisses with Tiffany.

    Aaron started out as a blogger in his mom’s basement and now has his own soapbox on NBC.

  12. mianfr - May 11, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    I actually signed up on MLB’s job board page to get emails whenever an internship comes up. Some are interesting like this one; most are just ticket marketing or whatever.

    In any case, don’t single out the Astros on this one. Every single team follows the same format for the same positions. You get paid never.

  13. eshine76 - May 11, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Used to work in baseball… People fall all over themselves to get a foot in the door. If you do well, it turns into a FT job; could be in baseball or somewhere else. What looks better on your resume – Houston Astros or small company no one had ever heard of? Lets also not forget about the sales people who can get your foot in the door with the many businesses who buy sponsorships & season tickets. That exposure has to be worth something. I haven’t worked in baseball in 10 years, but the connections I made still serve me today.

    • fivetoolmike - May 11, 2012 at 12:11 PM

      Yeah, and in this case the only people who get access to those connections are the ones who can afford to take the internships.

      • b7p19 - May 11, 2012 at 12:26 PM

        And that right there is the point of contention. You can’t get a good job without the interships on your resume, but if you don’t already have money you can’t afford to take an unpaid intership. Some places will still allow you the time to take a second job at the Home Depot or something, but the job described in this posting does not seem to be one of those jobs.

  14. philly56 - May 11, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    In this economy, you had better have an internship under your belt when you graduate or your resume won’t even be looked at much less seriously considered.  I graduated in 2008 and literally spent 2-3 hours a night between January and August looking for jobs, and I eventually got one related to my major. But it was frikin’ hard, and many of my freshly graduated friends are now working at Best Buy or the “twilight shift” at UPS. Like everything else, this is kind of thing that you get out of it what you put into it.

    I did an internship at a zoo in Maryland when I was in college, and it wasn’t nearly as much fun as that might sound. I spent the entire time in a hundred year old building writing articles for their website.  It legitametely required a lot more effort than my actual job now, and they paid me nothing. Well, I did get 5% off the pizza in their cafeteria. Long story short, it sucked. But being familiar with the real-world applications of your major instead of just the classroom BS is a HUGE advantage when job seeking. When people asked me all of their questions in the interviews, I was able to talk about situations or problem solving in an environment that was actually relevant to the job I was interviewing for. From their perspective, I could hit the ground running. 

    Probably won’t make bank, but they are taking a risk with you if we’re being honest. And, being able to put that on your resume and being able to talk it up during job interviews would be more than worth the hassle.  And come on, it’s a friggin’ major league baseball team for crying out loud. If that doesn’t impress an employer something must be wrong with them.  But if you were an IT major and decided to pass up this opportunity because they’re not paying, then something is SERIOUSLY wrong with you.

    • fivetoolmike - May 11, 2012 at 12:42 PM

      Sorry, what risk are teams (companies) taking on unpaid interns?

  15. yankeesgameday - May 11, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    This is a much more relevant link to a NY TIMES article from March of this year detailing the lawsuit brought against the Charlie Rose Show from unpaid interns suing for back wages. Every outlet who uses unpaid interns will be watching the outcome if this suit very closely.

  16. rcali - May 11, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    All they need now is some top talent Major League Baseball players.

  17. Charles Gates - May 11, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    How dare the Astros take advantage of a consenting adult that will be fully aware of the compensation involved before committing to the position under no duress and under no threat to them or anyone they know all while making the decision for themselves as to whether the opportunity cost of this unpaid internship is worth any potential future career advancements. How dare they.

    • fivetoolmike - May 11, 2012 at 1:46 PM

      It may be illegal because the temptation to take advantage of those consenting adults you mentioned has proven to be too much for many companies to resist, turning the perceived compensation of “experience” and “connections” into something worthless, changing those interns from unpaid employees to free labor.

      I’m not saying that’s what the Astros’ (or MLB’s) internship program is, but I’m saying that’s why it’s possibly illegal and definitely of questionable ethics.

      • Charles Gates - May 11, 2012 at 3:10 PM

        Please explain how it would be ‘taking advantage’ of them if they are consenting? Unless they deceive via means of bait and switch or methods of the like, it’s fine. And how is it free labor if the intern can quit at any time if they don’t like their work environment or if they realize that the experience gained isn’t worth the absence of pay? People have the freedom to make their own choices and should have the culpability to own their inherent consequences. It may be dumb, or sub-optimal, or free and not something your or I would do, but that does not constitute taking advantage.

      • Tim's Neighbor - May 11, 2012 at 4:12 PM

        They really don’t have a choice. It’s slim pickings out there and you have to get experience. Companies know they don’t have to pay them. The college kids have no choice but to accept this system or else it will be unquestionably harder on them.

        That said, kudos to those that take these opportunities and hopefully they remember how much they struggled and later help out college kids with legitimate pay.

      • Charles Gates - May 11, 2012 at 4:45 PM

        They have a choice. There’s no gun to their heads, literal or otherwise.

      • fivetoolmike - May 12, 2012 at 9:39 AM

        It’s “taking advantage” of the crappy job market conditions that coerces people into trying to find a way to survive while taking a job that doesn’t pay because they’re told that doing so is an essential part of finding a job commensurate with their skills in their chosen field. The problem comes in that there aren’t those full-time jobs available when the unpaid internships end.

        Sure, individuals can opt out if they realize that they’re being taken advantage of, but when the university system is funneling students into these programs that are failing to provide the opportunities and experiences they promise, then the responsibility is on either the companies offering the internships to ensure that what they offer (if not money) is still valuable. Failing that, it’s on the government to set what the minimum compensation would be for performing valuable work. Your arguments are correct on an individual level, in that a person can choose to quit or not take the job in the first place, but you’re incorrect in failing to recognize that this is a systemic problem. I think an apprenticeship program that leads to something is great, and there are still internship programs that work as they should; however, that’s not the way the internship system in this country works.

        There’s no gun to their head, but most of the time you have to make choices absent a gun; in this case, neither choice is appealing.

  18. mybrunoblog - May 11, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    I see no issue with team taking on unpaid interns so long as the position is temporary and the team lets the intern know this going in. It would be unfair to keep an intern for 8 months or a year.
    It would be nice if the team also eventually turned this position into a FT job however they could have trouble if they did that because the intern could sue them for having them doing a job w/o pay then start paying them for the same job. Sticky situation.

    For what it is worth Brian Cashman was an unpaid intern for the Yankees while he was in college.

  19. nategearhart - May 11, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    That is some pretty skilled work they’re asking this person to do. Those of you saying “quit yer bitchin'”, would you be alright with your boss firing you and turning your job into an internship position? He kinda-sorta has that right after all, by your logic. Here we are wondering where all the jobs are, and this is very skilled work that demands more salary than I make that an experienced IT guy CAN’T have because the Astros want to exploit a college kid instead. Cheap.

  20. stex52 - May 11, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    It’s not a question of legality or whether consenting adults are willing to do it. It is a question of ethics. The company is receiving a product of value for which they are essentially indenturing a person. If it is not attached to either some sort of course credits or pro forma payment, then it is a powerful organization abusing the position of a (typically) young person with no bargaining power. The “free agent” argument only goes so far in a case like that.

    I work in the petrochemical industry. Say what you will about the business; interns get credits, money and recommendations. As should be.

  21. bigleagues - May 11, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    About 10 years ago, Connecticut required employers of interns to pay some sort of monetary compensation for their services . . . even if college credit was being earned.

    Especially with organizations such as minor league teams, this became necessary because – right or wrong – if you can get free labor under the guise of college credits, you were gonna take advantage of that loophole.

  22. djstat - May 11, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    Don’t apply

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