After working a variety of unpaid internships during school and graduating college, friends Carlos Vera and Guillermo Creamer got together in the nation’s capital and started a social media campaign on behalf of interns. Washington, D.C. has the largest number of interns in the country – many of them work for members of Congress and groups that, the pair said, have money to pay them.
Three years later, Pay Our Interns (POI) is a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization advocating for an increase in the number of paid internships in the public and private sectors.
Through donations and grants, POI not only calls on members of Congress to pay interns for their work, but also ensures there is a diverse workforce pipeline.
“We both recognized the difference that existed when it came to those who were working in unpaid internships,” said Creamer. “They were students who could afford to do it … that came from privileged backgrounds and were predominately white.”
Both Vera and Creamer — who are Latinos — faced hardships during their time in Washington, D.C. while interning for free in various offices, including Congress, the White House, the mayor’s office and the Washington office of the European Union.
In October 2016, they created a Facebook page titled Pay Our Interns. Its popularity led the founders to realize this was a bigger issue. Within a few weeks, they had turned the campaign into a nonprofit. In less than a year, the team released “Experience Doesn’t Pay the Bills”, a first-of-its-kind report that listed which members of Congress paid and which did not.
With the support of Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), among others, POI increased the number of legislators who offer paid internships. In the case of Democratic offices in the Senate, they doubled that number.
“The goal is to have POI be a name that every intern across the country knows,” said Creamer.
“The whole idea of POI is not just for Capitol Hill. We want to abolish unpaid internships,” said POI Congressional Liaison Gabriela Hernández. “When you limit those entry-level experiences to only a certain group of people that can afford a non-paid internship, then you are ignoring a large percentage of Americans.”
POI is in the process of expanding across the United States.
“This isn’t a D.C. problem, it’s a nationwide problem,” said Creamer. “We have to make sure students, particularly those who come from different backgrounds and are not well-off or have the advantages of others, have the same equal opportunities.”