time to start an interns union?



Nov 18, 12 6:56 pm


Nov 18, 12 7:40 pm



Nov 18, 12 7:57 pm

We should be able to price fix through the AIA, I think.  But that organization is next to useless on the money front.

Nov 18, 12 8:28 pm

Who gets to be Jimmy Hoffa?  (You know, the guy who could field-verify rebar spacing from inside the concrete?)  Because it wouldn't take long...

Nov 18, 12 9:20 pm

Due89: "We should be able to price fix through the AIA,"

There's some relevant history that pertains to this profoundly naive statement. Some years back the U.S. Department of Justice sued the AIA for antitrust violations related to enforcement of professional fee schedules; they forced the AIA to sign a Consent Decree agreeing not to do that anymore.


Nov 18, 12 9:53 pm

boycott ncarb!

Nov 18, 12 11:03 pm
Living in Gin

As long as there are interns willing to whore themselves out to starchitects for free or an obscenely low "stipend" in order to get some pretty pictures in their portfolio and have a celebrity name on their resume, there will never be an effective interns union. There will always be a long line of people willing to cross that picket line, even if it means screwing over other interns in the process. Note that coal miners and factory workers don't accept absurdly low wages in order to gain experience with some prestigious employer.

Nov 19, 12 1:15 am

@quizzical:  I'm actually very familiar with the history behind it.  As an organization they don't do enough... like whats with all the unpaid work going on?  Cracking down on that would force fees up.

Nov 19, 12 1:25 am

Imagine what would happen if a place like SOM was slapped with a huge lawsuit for not paying interns!  They'd be a lesson to the rest of the architecture community that you need to pay people or else, and then fees would go up!

Nov 19, 12 1:27 am
Living in Gin

In my experience, the big corporate firms usually have a professional HR staff who know the laws, and are pretty good about paying wages that at least comply with the law. It's the architects who run small and mid-sized boutique firms who tend to think the laws don't apply to them.

Nov 19, 12 2:28 am

Slow Sunday? Unions? Again? Really!!

Nov 19, 12 6:55 am
won and done williams


Nov 19, 12 9:36 am

seriously though, you think people would join?  You think employers would stop hiring interns if they were union members?

Nov 19, 12 10:19 am

If interns went on strike they'd just teach these guys revit...

Nov 19, 12 11:31 am

i'm going to sound like an old guy here, but...

unions in the construction trades are a benefit to a job because they bring MASTER plumbers and MASTER electricians - there is focused education in the specific job to be performed, experience, and continuing ed. a union of registered architects could bring that kind of expertise, but a union of interns?! what's the value-added for hiring union interns vs non-union interns? 

unions work not just because they support the worker but because they have something to sell: a reasonable expectation of expert performance. 

you think green graduates out of school and non-registered folks with 8yrs experience would find enough common ground to be able to organize?

Nov 19, 12 11:59 am
wurdan freo

Drafting in the trades is considered a labor position (The guys who do the shop drawings and trade coordination) and thus can be signatory to the laborers union. I've been part of a project where the laborers went on strike and the draftsmen where gone for a couple of weeks.  So there is a precedent. 

I think it's a joke however and would gladly ship my production drafting to Mexico. So go ahead and waste your time and unionize. 

Nov 19, 12 12:47 pm

You old guys, with all your experience and your common sense!  You really know how to ruin a party (and a union-recruitment thread)...

Nov 19, 12 12:50 pm

I think an intern union is a great idea. It would pre-filter out all the people we don't want to hire and make them easy to identify and eliminate from hiring consideration rather than having to go through all those tedious interviews. Please, sign your name to a petition related to this.

Nov 19, 12 1:11 pm
won and done williams

As inane as this thread is, Steven, I think you are making the wrong comparison. It's not like unionizing a skilled trade; it's more like unionizing graduate school teaching assistants. I think there is actually collective bargaining power there, but it's never going to happen, so why are we even talking about it?

Nov 19, 12 1:17 pm

Living in Gin is pretty spot on— Fosters + Partners or SOM will never be caught dead with free labor unless they go out of their way with academic-based internship programs.

I was writing an article about this— to submit to Archinect— as what I've discovered is that regulatory agencies (like the DOL and IRS) actively pursue and prosecute companies that abuse free internships and other forms of illegal labor. Unfortunately, it takes months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to actually punish, fine and or convict someone of illegal hiring practices.

The U.S. government simply doesn't have the money or manpower.

Nov 19, 12 1:30 pm

not talking so much about striking, but rather about having an organised body to lobby for fair pay and reform.  No one wants to hurt an already troubled profession by putting unfair pressure on employers.  A union would give some power to a powerless segment of the workforce.  A union is about representation not about threats and bullying employers.  Employers can even be members.  I see the recent plight of graduates as a sign that the industry is in real trouble.  The AIA is not doing much to represent the labor force that supports their industry, which is unfortunate.  A happy and well represented labor force will be more productive and loyal.  Employers who follow the rules should not fear a union.  They also have an interest in fighting the ones who do not because unpaid internships gives their competition a financial advantage.  Interns are the future of the profession, and most are extremely unhappy with the current state of things.  IDP should not be the only way to get a license.  It is a monopoly system that should be thrown into the "free market" with 2 or 3 others so that people have options.  It has become like LIPA in that it is so comfortable in its position as the sole provider, that it has little incentive to treat members fair.  If it is a great as NCARB claims, then why need a monopoly? It should compete fine against other systems, right? 

There needs to be a stronger connection between the university and the workplace as well.  An internship should be monitored by the university (not a disconnected organization like ncarb) as a kind of post-education requirement toward the degree.  This would give grads a greater connection to the internship monitor and to local firms.  I propose an m-arch+ degree!  An m-arch + a 3 year internship.  Signed off by the dean and the employer.  When you graduate you take the ARE tests and get licensed.  Pay can be standardised as well.  Think about the influence that this would have on the education and practice. 

Nov 19, 12 1:44 pm

gw,   Why would being part of a union threaten your firm if you are not taking advantage of people?  And if you are then why should anyone care. 

Nov 19, 12 1:53 pm

It's not like unionizing a skilled trade; it's more like unionizing graduate school teaching assistants.

not really.  if the internship was actually an "internship" then I would get the comparison, but it is not. 

Nov 19, 12 1:57 pm

Why would being part of a union threaten your firm if you are not taking advantage of people?

talk to the twinkie

: ' (

Nov 19, 12 2:17 pm

there are some people who think 'capitalism' means personal profitability focused on short-term gain.  those people often think people of lower castes are expected to labor for their profit.  such firms are not interested in teaching younger staff how to be better architects or how to move into better positions within their firms.  in fact, there is often a considerable amount of deception, manipulation, passive-aggressive behavior, and even sabotage at the upper levels of these companies because it's usually easier to knock down you peers rather than work harder yourself.  the idea of helping your colleagues is absolutely ridiculous because improving their work for the benefit of your company will only limit your ability to maximize your own personal short-term gain.

gwharton already knows you would not be a good fit for his company jla-x.  you may be the sort of person who wants to succeed personally, possibly through hard work, pride, and self-motivation.  you may even want to help your peers, as if 'a rising tide raises all boats.'  you're only threatening their established system.  if you're actually capable at performing your job, that's even worse because any kind of seniority you can develop means you'll just become additional competition for him to worry about.

a unionized labor force for young architects or aspiring architects would not be amenable  to the high turn-over these firms have come to depend on.

Nov 19, 12 2:35 pm

you know, hostess didn't fail because their employees were unable to make twinkies right.  go buy a twinkie.  they're just as good as when you were a kid.  something else went wrong.

hmmm.  maybe having hostess run by a bunch of john galt wannabe pricks like the above mentioned failures of management caused the company to fall apart.  if the company had invested in their employees, infrastructure, and product their bankruptcy could have been avoided.  instead they were concerned with the short term profits of executives and investors.  that's not a smart way to run a company if you don't want it to fail.

Nov 19, 12 2:51 pm

 curtram, as usual, you make alot of sense!

Nov 19, 12 3:04 pm

and yes, a rising tide does raise all boats.  In such a collaborative profession I am always amazed that people don't get this concept. 

Nov 19, 12 3:12 pm

It gives me a chuckle to think about a group of architects cooperating in any meaningful way in pursuit of a collective goal ... in fact, it makes me LOL.

If you think the AIA is dysfunctional, wait 'til you get a glimpse of a group of interns, spread across 50 states, trying to get organized around a common vision. Ain't gonna happen, folks.

What are you going to do the first time a 'trust fund baby' crosses the 'picket line' to work for free?

Nov 19, 12 3:27 pm

jla-x, an intern union wouldn't threaten me or my firm at all. We don't have trouble finding good people, and we pay them well. Anybody stupid enough to be involved in such thing would be automatically disqualified as someone I'd want to work with, though. I certainly wouldn't want the success of my projects to be in any way dependent on them.

Nov 19, 12 4:29 pm

good.  but then why the bitterness about a union?  We are not talking about a union backed by greasy thugs who throw old architects into pizza ovens.  I am talking more about a union that is constructive. 

Nov 19, 12 6:42 pm

Not bitterness. I just don't like working with people who lack good judgment and basic understanding. I wind up having to waste lots of time watching them to make sure they don't screw up too bad, and then more time fixing their screw-ups after they inevitably happen. Getting involved in something as silly as an "interns union" is prima facie evidence of a lack of good judgment and would generally disqualify anyone doing so as undesirable to work with.

Nov 19, 12 6:49 pm

I think that the idea of coming together in an effort to better qualify the abilities of "intern" architects is a fantastic idea. Emerging, aspiring architects are underpaid and generally unappreciated. Yet, to a great degree, as a result of our own actions. 

It would be a feat for young professionals to work together to increase the overall value of our work, both monetarily and in terms of product standards/best practice. The sad truth, however, is that there are far too many individuals who are willing to work for near nothing, as well as far too many who don't understand the basics of building systems, construction, etc etc. 

None of this is ground-breaking news; most of us know that's the way things are currently. So the question is: How do we elevate the role of the architect; professionally,  economically and socially? That's the big issue. As long as licensed architects are under-valued in today's market, interns will remain under-valued as well. 

It's not a union that we need, but an overall push from the entire community to say "Hey, you need us and you need our work." That is an immense task. A task that AIA and NCARB aren't working towards alongside the actual professionals. 

To finish this spit-balling, the graduate/available position ratio is totally screwed. There's too many people aspiring to be architects and no where near enough position to facilitate professional growth for everyone with a B/M.Arch. Hell, I myself had to go a different route for the time being as a Millwork Designer. 

Elevate the role of the architect, increase job stability and growth within the profession, more positions and pay for upcoming architects! Let's get it done!

Nov 19, 12 7:12 pm

So what is fair pay?  Thinking about all the hours I grind away on projects. You know bringing concepts from idea to actual buildings.  Ya were in hard times, but anyone who has been around can tell you we have felt the squeeze before.  So suck it up DUDE! Go find a job where you don't have to belly ache and get some real work done.  I have been doing it for years and it pays the bills.

Nov 19, 12 8:15 pm

Brian has hit the nail on the head. In a poor economy, a union won't do anything meaningful for young professionals (or any professionals, for that matter) and a strong economy will provide benefits that no such union can ever produce.

Most of you supporting the concept of a union here probably weren't out of school in the 2007-2008 period. Back then there was a shortage of design professionals at all levels and good people were almost impossible to hire at any price.

"Supply and demand" is a dominant characteristic of employment in our profession. No union is going to change that.

I blame Bush / Cheney for our current poor economy. Seems like a lot of voters in the recent election agree with me.

Nov 19, 12 8:30 pm

Capitalism = Freedom To Concentrate Wealth

Nov 19, 12 8:40 pm

oh god we're not still blaming bush are we?  you ARE aware bush and obama are not directly responsible for the economy, right?

Nov 19, 12 10:34 pm
i r giv up

obama drinks baby blood.

Nov 19, 12 10:37 pm

Sure ... it's totally fun watching the Right run away first from Bush/Cheney, and now from Romney. They can run, but they're finding it really difficult to hide.

Nov 19, 12 11:08 pm

romney was relatively moderate until he flip flopped everything to line up with the republican party.  the republican party needs to change.  gay rights are here to stay.  abortion is still 50/50 depending on your definition of life, latin americans represent a large part of the population and will continue to grow, and sustainability is not a fad.  if they can't accept that than the world will move on without them.

Nov 20, 12 1:20 am

"Capitalism = Freedom To Concentrate Wealth"
Corporatism = Freedom To Concentrate Wealth
We don't live in a capitalist system we live in a corporatist elite owned system. The free market system is dead because of the government intervention. If your messiah hadn't bailed out banks and corporations and let them go bankrupt instead  we would have been better now. The ignorance on this site is appalling.

Nov 20, 12 5:07 am

Para - you're talking about Bush, right?

Nov 20, 12 6:32 am

is there something that happened in real life ever anywhere that would suggest letting the banks fail would have put us in a better position?  also, as comb points out, you are unclear as to whether bush, obama, or the congress that voted for the bailouts would be your 'messiah.'

i think a bank panic would have made a bad situation much worse.  i think history would agree with me.

free market without government intervention leads to things like monopolies, umbrella corporations that own everything, plutocracy, and other things mutually exclusive to democracy.  if our current system is a 'corporate elite owned system' it's because the government isn't doing enough to regulate the free market.  if i had to choose between an unregulated market that would create a caste system (where i would not likely be in the ruling party) and the right to vote, i would take the right to vote.

Nov 20, 12 7:51 am

Iceland (via wsj) is the obvious example.  They bite the bullet and are now on they're way to a much quicker recovery than the rest of the west.

"That rescue, in turn, weighed on the financial system. But unlike Ireland, for example, Iceland let its banks fail and made foreign creditors, not Icelandic taxpayers, largely responsible for covering losses."

But, hey, as long as you want to keep supporting too-big-to-jail money losing banks with your paychecks then neither Wall Street nor Washington is going to object.


Nov 20, 12 8:29 am

Comb, I'm talking about both Bush and Obama but yes by messiah I meant Obama, I too want equality and a strong middle class but I'm angry at the people who think Obama will accomplish that, they're sadly mistaken. Unfortunately the Republicans stopped being small government advocates long time ago and their spending is no less than those of Democrats. Add the theocratic tea party nuttiness to the mix and you might as well call GOP GDP because it is a dead party walking now. They need to get their act together or we'll have to endure a one party system for a long time.

Curtkram, companies can't become monopolies without subsidies and bailouts. Actually a free market system is the only way to prevent corporations from getting too powerful. Hard working Americans subsidize failing businesses through taxation and what do they get in return? More layoffs while the CEOs fill their pockets with the bail out money. In the past 4 years the rich kept getting richer while the poor kept getting poorer. Regulations keep the "little guys" from competing with the big businesses. Free markets, by encouraging competition, expand the economy and create more jobs.

And yes the US should follow the Iceland model but it won't happen unless people rise up and demand real change.

Nov 20, 12 9:40 am

Regulations keep the "little guys" from competing with the big businesses. Free markets, by encouraging competition, expand the economy and create more jobs.


I've said this before and it's one of my feature rants but I will say it again.

Federal regulations are not the primary burden and or barrier of small-to-medium sized businesses.

Local regulations play a far larger impact in the viability and sustainability of microeconomic growth.


Changes in taxation and interest rates may affect net profits from plus-or-minus 5-15%.

Rent and facilities upkeep usually makes up 20-35% of a company's gross revenue.

Nov 20, 12 11:33 am

iceland is a good example.  i don't think it applies to the US though, because the loss of our financial sector would be considerably larger and the 'foreign' creditors, who would also be domestic in our case, would be less able to absorb the loss.  this could have caused a domino effect, where one institution failing causes the next institution to fail because they depended on their solvency, then another institution that depended on that institution's solvency, etc.  i do think it's a travesty that the people involved in the failed banks are not subject to abject poverty for the rest of their lives.

it's certainly possible for a company to become a monopoly through government intervention, but i don't think that's common (utilities or similar organizations that are supposed to be monopolies for whatever reason are common.)  when home depot moves to town, a mom and pop hardware store will have difficulty competing because home depot has a considerable market advantage, way more capital, and far better purchasing power due to their scale.  if they try to compete, home depot can afford to cut prices to the point they're operating at a loss until the small business folds.  monopolies form when market strength like that is used to push out competitors.  once it's down to only home depot and lowes, they just work together to stabilize prices and labor costs where they want them.  no competition if they work together, and there is no need for government subsidies (though they will of course have plenty of money left over to buy a few politicians to avoid unsettling legislation or inquiries).

if your looking at regulations like the EPA, which I think is what tea partiers sometimes focus on, you're not limiting start-up business that much and the regulations are necessary to maintain natural resources we need to keep healthy.  EPA regulations may limit larger industries that don't care about our nations health like the koch brothers or monsanto.  they could both afford to hire a few people if they wanted to regardless of EPA regulations, and clean drinking water is far more important to our country than their investor's profits.

one last note.  the growing gap between the wealthy and not-so-wealthy has been going on for a lot longer than 4 years.  i think late 70's is probably where it started dramatically shifting.  the last 4 years didn't fix it, but neither did the 4 years before that or the 20 years before that.  the chart below should show where hard work and a strong work ethic can get you.

Nov 20, 12 11:53 am

it's certainly possible for a company to become a monopoly through government intervention, but i don't think that's common (utilities or similar organizations that are supposed to be monopolies for whatever reason are common.)  when home depot moves to town, a mom and pop hardware store will have difficulty competing because home depot has a considerable market advantage, way more capital, and far better purchasing power due to their scale.


Yes but if local municipalities had the balls...

Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowes and any other Big Box retailer would more or less be out of business if ...

... they removed parking lot minimum requirements, charged full real estate tax on parking lots and required high-capacity parking be in the form of parking structures.

Nov 20, 12 12:42 pm

"required high-capacity parking be in the form of parking structures"

My city has a new head of municipal planning, and when he and the Mayor suggested that developers do this on a new mega-mall project on the outskirts of present city limits to "make things more pedestrian-friendly," the developers and their architect made a bunch of noise in the newspapers about how they're not used to hearing city officials tell them that "their designs are harsh." The main question on their mind was "Who's going to pay to build all those multi-levelo parking structures?"

Then they threatened two things: 1) to sue the planning department if their development permits were not approved, on the basis that the proposed mega-mall doesn't violate any existing land use and zoning bylaws 2) to build this project just out of city limits, less than a mile away, making sure the city doesn't get any share of their profits via real estate taxes. The city approved the project the next day after the whole thing went down.

so yeah, I'll second your sentiment of "if local municipalities had the balls..."

Nov 20, 12 11:16 pm

as for the original topic: If interns unions were to have the responsibility of providing professional development opportunities to unlicensed architects, ensuring that their members are the most qualified for the practice of architecture, I don't see how this would be a terrible idea. So for those of you who think that a unionized plumber is preferable to a non-union contractor, because membership in the union guarantees a level of expertise - wouldn't this do the same thing for entry-level architects if the unions only admitted qualified people, and then provided a structure for continued learning?

As for the problem of "how do you get all these young people to rally around a single cause" - why would this need to be a nationwide union? It would make a lot more sense to have local unions, representing a state or province at most - like the licencing board. That way each union could focus on particular needs of employers and employees in each area. These could be the organizations that administer IDP, which would allow multiple compliance paths (don't like how your state does IDP, move to a different state). NCARB could either compete with them in an open market, or simply accredit each union the same way they accredit university faculties.

Nov 20, 12 11:30 pm

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