Executive Director and Cofounder, Pay Our Interns
Next-gen labor advocate
Industry: Political activism
Key previous position: Media-relations associate
Education: American University
Notable fact: Serves in the Army Reserves
Carlos Mark Vera believes in the power of internships. A good one, he says, can really make a difference for a student trying to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives. He himself interned in the House of Representatives, the White House, and the European Parliament.
On paper, those internships look fantastic. But none were paid opportunities. When Vera was interning in the House, he had to work another job (on top of taking six classes at American) in order to make ends meet. The biggest struggle for him, he says, was keeping his eyes open at his desk on Capitol Hill. He thought he’d made it when he accepted an internship at the White House, before realizing that he owned only one suit. His family pitched in to get him another at J.C. Penney.
With that experience fresh in his mind, Vera realized that there was nobody advocating for interns in Washington. Along with Guillermo Creamer, a classmate of his at American, he launched Pay Our Interns in October 2016.
Initially, they struggled to get meetings. When they did, they were told they had no shot at getting interns paid. So they released a report in June 2017 showing that only 26 out of 435 House members and 43 out of 100 senators offered paid internships. The report generated lots of media coverage, and the group started to make progress.
Through the efforts of Sen. Chris Van Hollen and other senators, the upper chamber set aside $5 million for internships, and the House budgeted another $8.8 million. Pay Our Interns has also worked with the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as some presidential candidates, to make sure that their interns are paid. Vera isn’t stopping in Washington. He’s kicking off a 50-state initiative to get state governments and municipalities to pay their interns. Unpaid internships are holding students back from paying off their loans and creating a secure financial future for themselves, he believes, and paid opportunities are one way to level the playing field.