A Bank of America intern, Moritz Erhardt, was found dead this week, collapsed in his student apartment, after reportedly working three straight days in the company’s London investment-banking unit.
Erhardt’s death has been ruled unsuspicious by London police, and reports claim that he suffers from epilepsy. Still, the Internet was abuzz with frightening speculation that the summer intern, described as “popular” and “highly diligent” by his employer, had worked himself to death.
The news of Erhardt’s death comes at a time when the world is focused on the plight of the overworked, abused, and underpaid (or unpaid!) intern. So much attention has followed this free workforce that The Daily Beast has dubbed 2013 “the year of the intern.”
Reports on social media that the bright student from Germany's WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management worked grueling hours before his death have not been confirmed. Several interns corroborate the claim that banking interns are expected to work these types of never-ending shifts.
“We all work long hours but the guys working regularly until 3 or 4am are those in investment banking,” one intern told The Independent.
“He apparently pulled eight all-nighters in two weeks. They get you working crazy hours and maybe it was just too much for him in the end," said another.
John McIvor, head of international communications at the bank, wouldn’t comment on the time that Erhardt spent at the office but seemed to be pushing responsibility for overworked interns back onto the students themselves. “The whole point about internships is to give students a positive experience and to get to know our firm and us to know them well, so we can work out who would be the best fit to join the company full time after they graduate,” McIvor told CNBC. "I'm not going to comment on what hours people choose to spend in the office voluntarily," he said.
A Bank of America spokesman told the Atlantic Wire, “All the rumors and comments are just that, we will have to wait and see what the post-mortem examination says.”
Whatever the investigation reveals, it’s clear that young Erhardt was definitely eager and probably overworked and that a promising future has been cut short.
Fordham University junior Olivia Nuzzi was the last intern to hit headlines. She gathered just enough dirt during her one-month internship for Anthony Weiner’s kamikaze mayoral campaign to land a front-page story in the New York Daily News detailing some fairly tame experiences—the interns really wanted to work for Huma Abedin, and Weiner called several of her colleagues “Monica.” The real news came when Weiner’s press secretary, Barbara Morgan, lashed out in what she later said she thought was an off-the-record conversation, calling Nuzzi a “slutbag” and a fame-hungry “bitch,” along with a few other choice epithets. Morgan said at first that Nuzzi was a real go-getter and “begged me to be my intern” despite warnings that the job wouldn’t be glamorous. But soon Nuzzi’s enthusiasm waned and she was missing work and failing at her job, according to the foul-mouthed spokeswoman. “She sucked,” Morgan said. “She was clearly there because she wanted to be seen.” Mission accomplished.
The Political Prodigies
Interns are wasting no time shaking things up in Washington.
They are often told to be proactive, but one self-starter at the National Transportation Safety Board got the axe for acting “outside the scope of his authority” and erroneously confirming the names of the flight crew on Asiana flight 214 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport this summer. That mistake led a Bay Area TV news anchor to read on air what in hindsight seem to be obvious and offensive fake names: Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, and Bang Ding Ow. Even after the intern’s firing, an NTSB spokesman told Politico, “It’s unfortunate because he’s a very intelligent young man who made a very big mistake.”
Another underage congressional intern came to work “absolutely hammered” before offering a slurred declaration of his love for Rep. Paul Ryan and losing a shoe while he went to score a burrito, according to an internal memo sent to Gawker. “Needless to say,” the cable said, “he was promptly sent home to sleep it off and I’m down an intern for the remainder of the summer.”
And Byron Thomas, a confederate flag–loving intern for South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, is serious about patriotism, and he’s using all of his intern power to start a Pledge of Allegiance movement in the Senate. In an email that was almost immediately forwarded around the Hill and to news organizations, a very earnest Thomas pleads with staff and underlings to put their hands over their hearts.
“I’ve only been here for 8 days but I can tell that something is wrong, (in my opinion),” he writes. “We have American flags in front of every room, but I’ve never seen anyone take the time to proudly say the Pledge of Allegiance ... I would love to say the pledge with the different offices before 9 a.m. (because that’s when I start work). All I want is for our generation to show that we’re united and that we’re going to stand together.”
Now they’re fighting for their right to get paid.
Increasingly rejecting the learning-experience narrative, a number of interns are successfully winning the wage war in court. A June ruling that unpaid production assistants for the 2010 film Black Swan were de facto employees of Fox Searchlight paved the way for the interns to kick off their training wheels and demand compensation.
In the last couple of months, interns have won cash settlements from Charlie Rose and his production company, as well as clothing designer Norma Kamali. And they’re swarming courts with petitions, at least 13 this year, against companies including Condé Nast and W magazine, Warner Music, MSNBC, Gawker, and Saturday Night Live.
In the midst of all this intern news, someone thought it would be a good idea to make a $60 million feature-length buddy-comedy about two middle-aged wannabe Googlers competing for a summer internship. That person was wrong. The movie-watching world yawned at Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson’s antics, and The Internship flopped, earning $18 million at the weekend box office and coming in fourth place.
Presaging the lackluster response, Wilson told Entertainment Weekly: “Flops are actually more relaxing than hits. Because that initial opening weekend when something bombs, it’s like, ‘OK, it’s over.’”