Concordia Journalism Students Strike Against Unpaid Internships

Department Becomes Second Anglophone University to Join the Movement

Journalism undergraduates voted unanimously for a week long strike in the winter semester for the fight against unpaid internships. File Photo Daren Zomerman

About 35 journalism undergraduates voted unanimously for a week long strike in the winter semester on Wednesday night. Students are demanding the provincial government prohibit universities and CEGEP’s from running unpaid internships and want a section on interns’ rights added to Quebec’s labour code.

Disclaimer: The Link would like to acknowledge our paper’s involvement in this strike. Our Editor-in-Chief Miriam Lafontaine and Board Member Erika Morris helped lead the vote to strike. All articles concerned with the strike in Concordia’s journalism department will be handled by editors or contributors from outside the department.

Concordia’s journalism department will be joining thousands of Quebec students to strike against unpaid internships. Concordia becomes the second English university to be involved, joining McGill’s School of Social Work.

Student unions across the province have been demanding remuneration for unpaid work. This past November, about 58,000 students across Quebec went on a one week strike against unpaid internships.

A committee was also formed after the vote to prepare students in the department for the strike.

“We can use this one week strike to put pressure on the entire university,” said The Link’s Editor-in-Chief, Miriam Lafontaine. “Because there are still students who, if they want to do a for credit internship they have to be unpaid, […] If you’re paying tuition for an unpaid internship, you’re just paying to work for free.”

The strike proposal was first brought forward by Lafontaine, student representative on The Link’s board of directors Erika Morris and journalism student Jon Milton to members of the Journalism Student Association in early December.

The strike will begin when the broader general strike takes place across Quebec, said Milton, a former editor at The Link.

“The strike will begin once a minimum of 20,000 students from at least three regions of Quebec have taken on the strike mandate,” he continued.

Unpaid internships also drive down wages for journalists as a whole, Morris said, and contribute to the precarity of working journalists.

“Entry level jobs should not be replaced by unpaid internships,” she said. “You have people who are losing their jobs and instead [interns are hired] that they don’t pay.”

The student led effort has shown signs of movement from the journalism department. On the day of the strike vote, Chair David Secko sent an email to the JSA saying the department is “actively engaged” with the university in reviewing the journalism department’s requirement that for-credit internships be unpaid only.

“Having the department on our side and having them fight this fight alongside us is a really big plus because we’re able to at least start talking about changing [internship] requirement,” said Katelyn Thomas, an executive in the JSA and copy editor at The Concordian.

Unlike programs such as nursing and education, journalism does not mandate their students to take on internships but they are deemed necessary for future career prospects, said Thomas.

In July 2017, Thomas interned at CJAD 800 for four weeks while also working full time in the evenings. Working both jobs, Thomas said she didn’t do as well as she could have if she was able to put “100 per cent of [her] time and energy into the internship itself.”

“Striking and demanding to be paid, we allow more people to participate in internships so they can have an equal opportunity,” Thomas said. “It’s just to make sure everyone has equal [opportunities].”

Thomas said the strike vote will set an example and hopes to see ripple effects, and see more students join the cause.

“This is about making the entire field of journalism, not just journalism school, something that’s more accessible for people who want to become journalists,” Milton added.