Roberta’s Kind of Deserves These New “Fuck You” Posters

  • Photo via New York Shitty

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.

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  1. Hell will break loose when people learn about doing stages in restaurant kitchens (unpaid interning has been part of this business forever).

    Job/Internship type:
    Unpaid Internship
    Company/Publication Name:
    Brooklyn, NY
    The L and Brooklyn Mag are seeking an art intern for the upcoming semester
    to help with both web/print production on the quickly expanding
    publications. While internship is unpaid, this presents great opportunity
    for hands on experience and portfolio building at not just one, but two,
    REALLY AWESOME magazines.
    Art Intern Responsibilities:
    -Place the editorial content in InDesign files
    -Assist with edits
    -Upload print content for web
    -Assist with art production
    -Help design promotional material
    -Knowledge of InDesign, Photoshop and HTML
    -Ability to self-manage and multitask
    -Interest in Brooklyn culture and print media
    -Illustration and photo skills are a plus
    Posted 1/17/12
    Email a cover letter, resume, and web or pdf portfolio to
    OK to mention Ed?:

  3. While we know that job market feels almost impossible, keep in mind, that if approached correctly, internships allow for invaluable experience. One of the things I recall learning about as I was growing up, was the apprentice model of learning. Similar to internships however, lasting much longer, one was taken through all the aspects of the business, to come out in the end, a master. Often this was done for very little or no pay.

    While the qualifications Roberta’s is asking for, reeks of getting an experienced laborer for no pay, if they took the position of taking an untrained or under-trained individual and then would show them through the business, they would be a more respected business.

  4. “Kind of” deserves this??? How about COMPLETELY deserves this, and more?!

    This restaurant is incomprehensible to me on every level. The food is good. Just good, definitely not great. It is crowded and really overpriced and loud and has communal tables, which no one likes. There is no ambiance whatsoever. The greed expressed by this ad is absolutely in sync with everything about this place. The last time I was there, which has been a while, they had the unmitigated gall to put DONATION BOXES on every table to contribute to their Urban Garden. Excuse me? You’re not a charity, Roberta’s! Isn’t having boatloads of willing idiots pay for your egregiously overpriced (and not so extraordinary) food contribution enough to your Urban Garden? This is truly disgusting, though not remotely surprising.

    The worst part about this is that I am sure they will have zillions of will applicants because Eastern Brooklyn has become the playground of privileged white kids in their early twenties, an astonishing number of which do not have need for a meaningful income to survive.

  5. The donation boxes were to help people in the rockaways that roberta’s was hosting an event for in their garden.

    no one is being hurt by the way roberta’s educates people about urban gardens, the only way to get this kind of learning is hands on. If you cant see an opportunity for what it is then good luck.

    obligatory: L mag uses roberta’s to spread their media by advertising their booklets there.

  6. You are mistaken about the donation boxes. The ones I was making reference to were a long time before the hurricane. And yes, there are people being hurt by this: people who need JOBS. Roberta’s is a highly profitable business that, despite the desperate job market, would prefer only to hire workers for free. It is perfectly fine if highly privileged children want to learn about urban gardening while not earning any money, but it is simply not realistic for the vast majority of adults.

  7. Also telling, if you ask a reasonable person, that tunaboy draws attention to L Magazine’s publicity and advertising policies towards favorable media coverage–WHICH IS DOUCHEBAGGISHNESS. The amorality of agents of gentrification is sickening. You think the Internet is killing media? It’s douchebaggishness like the suggestion L Magazine should watch out, because, hey, Roberta’s advertises t/here, and since they do, let’s reject all decency and reason. I’m not saying that L Magazine is doing it, or even that tunafish is hinting it [though we’ve all had our fill of irony these days], but it sure is telling. If indeed tunabag is recommending such a course of action, then maybe s/he should be reminded of signore once claiming on a thread that there exists a physical wall between advertising and editorial over at Gothamist, as if that actually blocks anything. ha!

  8. The L Magazine wouldn’t survive another issue without its army of unpaid laborers- I have known several people who worked there as unpaid interns. They’re pretty frank about it.

    Half the crap on this website, and in the magazines, is written by interns – that’s why it’s so flipping bad and half-assed. It’s articles-by-Googling: my college paper was better written, because they actually taught people how to write and research….meh.

    I’m astonished anybody advertises in this/these magazines.