This Is What White-Collar Labor Exploitation Looks Like

A while ago, I discussed two post-docs that were ‘voluntary’–essentially unpaid internships for PhDs. DrugMonkey has more details (boldface mine):

A bit by David Wagner (@david_r_wagner) on the KPBS site specifies:

Well, it wasn’t a joke. But it wasn’t exactly straight-forward, either.

The job listing was vague from the get-go. Who exactly was hiring? The only details given were “lab in La Jolla.”

Well, there are lots of labs in La Jolla. So I had to do some digging to find out which one posted this, and I found out that the listing was posted by a researcher named Laura Crotty Alexander. She’s a physician at the VA San Diego Healthcare System who doubles as a UCSD faculty member. I couldn’t reach her for comment.

If Alexander’s listing looked like a terrible opportunity, that’s by design, according to VA chief of staff Robert Smith.

“Frankly, what she was trying to do was make it look unappealing,” Smith said. “Because she was trying to create an advertisement that nobody would apply to.”

You see, the VA lab already had someone in mind for the position: a postdoc from Egypt who actually volunteered to work for free.

The reporter further specified:

which in my view is a far from uncommon situation. I’ve received inquiries about working in my lab under similar circumstances.

This post-doc is basically a scab because solidarity isn’t just a Polish phrase from the mid-1980s. Drugmonkey again (boldface mine):

It is wrong because it is labor exploitation. We dealt with that over 100 years ago in the US. Yes, exploitation always continues and is resisted in fits and starts by unions, regulation and competitive pressures. But the arguments remain the same, the benefits of exploiting labor are tempting and the excuses are no better in the scientific context. I don’t care that the candidate “volunteers”. I don’t care that the candidate is getting authorship or keeping her hand in the game of science or whatever excuse you want to advance. This is the case for all postdocs. Should we refuse to pay all of them? Heck no. Just like we stopped letting companies demand their employees worked in the mines for 14 hr shifts, 7 days a week with no breaks. Just like we discouraged and restricted company-store, company-town scams which ended up reducing real wages. Just like we established a minimum wage. Etc. Just like modern jurisprudence is rejecting free intern scams.

If this post-doc is doing the work, then she needs to be paid–and not just for her sake, but everyone’s.

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2 Responses to This Is What White-Collar Labor Exploitation Looks Like

  1. John Savage says:

    but, immigration isn’t a problem…

  2. Don says:

    It also could be her visa would not allow her to work. We had a volunteer in our lab too. She was the wife of a Taiwanese graduate student and her visa forbade her from taking any type of a job and she wasn’t interested in and couldn’t afford to take classes. She worked in our lab because she was bored to death sitting at home staring at the walls and she wanted something to do. We had the money, we could have hired her, actually, we wanted to hire her but given the current immigration laws we couldn’t. She wasn’t a PhD, she was a technician but that shouldn’t make any difference. So she volunteered, she did great work, she got authorship and she got glowing recommendations when she went back to Taiwan. It was better than sitting in the student apartments watching Oprah.

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