So, DNAinfo reported yesterday on fliers that have been popping up around Bushwick in response to a (since removed, but posted elsewhere) Craigslist ad seeking an unpaid intern for their on-site farm. Admittedly, the ad’s stipulations were incredibly stupid:
“Compensation is learning how to run an urban farm for a restaurant, being in a very fun environment, working with creative chefs, meeting other urban farmers and getting acquainted with NY’s farming community. Free lunch every time you work (pizza).”
The ad also states that “experience in farming, hydroponics, and having carpentry skills are a definite plus but not a requirement.” Which pretty directly implies that Roberta’s is hoping to find experienced, already trained laborers to do work for free, in exchange, essentially, for spending time around cool people, and sometimes eating pizza. Two things it is abundantly easy to do in New York without an uncompensated 16-hour-per-week commitment. Anyway, the “FUCK YOU, ROBERTA’S!” fliers do a better job of expressing the general outrage over this whole thing:
“Roberta’s pizza, the thriving trendy pizza restaurant on Moore Street that has played host to the Clintons among a number of notable guests, is attempting to profit off of free labor of so-called “interns” in running their kitchen garden. They have recently posted a Craigslist ad looking for said intern claiming that compensation is “learning how to run an urban farm,” and expecting a mandatory commitment of working hours that qualifies as a part time job. For having already contributed so greatly to the damaging gentrification of Bushwick, is Roberta’s so greedy as to exploit workers and flout labor laws, just to save a measly few bucks an hour? Show Roberta’s you won’t stand for the continuing exploitation of young workers in the form of unpaid “Internships!”
Whether or not you think Roberta’s has actually done any damage to Bushwick (and whether or not you think angry, anonymous ALL CAPS fliers are the best way to handle a perceived labor issue), it’s hard not to side with whoever made these. But it’s also hard, in good faith, to criticize Roberta’s too harshly for this. I’ve worked at small media companies for my entire professional life, and except for one (privately bankrolled) company that paid its interns $10 an hour, unpaid interns have been everywhere. The same is true for almost every working adult I know. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, our job market is an exploitative, increasingly rigged disaster, etc.
Still, something about this feels particularly shitty. Maybe it’s arbitrary, and just especially jarring because farming — more than, say, blogging — is an activity so concretely associated with actual labor, and, historically, widespread labor injustices. Maybe it’s because Roberta’s is a highly visible business that’s responsible in no small part for re-shaping a neighborhood economy in its own image, not only successful enough to be able to afford some paid on-site farm work here and there, but also, ideally, beholden to set an example for everyone else. Or maybe it’s just kind of fun to get mad at Roberta’s. Most likely, it’s all of the above.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.