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Ask NOW: Does Brookfield pay its interns?

Intern Kimberly Sleider, a UW-Milwaukee student, works on a project for the city of Brookfield’s Community Development Department.

Intern Kimberly Sleider, a UW-Milwaukee student, works on a project for the city of Brookfield’s Community Development Department.

Feb. 4, 2014

Is there a rumor you'd like tracked down? Rory Linnane answers some of the mysteries of life in Brookfield and helps solve everyday problems.

What do interns do for the city, and are they compensated?

Question: The subject of paying interns has been a popular topic in the news lately, with many companies coming under fire for not paying their interns. How does the city of Brookfield approach internships?

Answer: The city of Brookfield has been providing internships for several years now. Some are supplementary to the city's normal workload and more academic in nature, while others have been crucial to helping the city maintain services when staff has been cut, Human Resources Director James Zwerlein said. Those of the latter category are paid, while the others are not.

Many companies have been scrutinized recently for using unpaid internships, especially after a New York court ruling last year found that unpaid interns at Fox Searchlight Pictures were performing the work of regular employees, and therefore needed to be paid minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This act, however, only applies to interns in the "for profit" private sector, exempting non-profits and governments.

However, Zwerlein said, the city has decided to pay its interns who provide work that is integral to a department, that the department would otherwise hire an employee to perform.

"We believe if people are doing actual work of the city that needs (to be) done, they should be paid for that," Zwerlein said.

The city's two paid interns this year are in the Department of Community Development, where the Common Council voted to cut a staff position from the budget this fiscal year. The interns pick up the slack.

One of the paid interns, Kimberly Sleider, is a master's student in urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is working on creating a historical walking tour of the Village area of Brookfield, researching the history of various buildings and designing the pamphlets that will lead visitors through the tour.

The Community Development Department also has two unpaid interns, whose work is meant to be less integral to the city and more related to their studies.

Email Rory Linnane with your question at rlinnane@jrn.com.

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