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NYC’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act Hopes to Redress Non-Payment

Posted by Rebecca Blake on April 26, 2016

Freelance Isn't Free banner imageIn December of last year, New York City Councilman Brad Lander introduced 1017-A, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act. The act has been championed by the Freelancers Union and founder Sara Horowitz, who launched a campaign to support and publicize the bill. An Op-Ed penned by Lander and Horowitz outlined the travails facing New York City freelancers: “more than 70% of gig workers in NYC report having been cheated out of payments, paid many months late, or paid less than they were owed. On average, these workers were stiffed out of $6,000 each year.” Freelancer are deterred from taking legal action by the high cost of lawyer’s fees, and by the financial hardship incurred by late payment. According to the op-ed, companies gamble on the chance that legal action won’t be taken, or offer a smaller payment to a freelancer desperate for funds. 

The bill attempts to address non- and late payment by requiring anyone hiring a freelancer to provide a written contract describing the work to be done and payment terms. It also requires that full payment be made with 30 days of completion of the work, or from the payment due date stipulated on the contract. To address the difficulty freelancers face in affording legal action, penalties could include double damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties. 

At a hearing on April 22, council members listened to testimony from over a dozen freelancers, from writers to graphic artists to consultants. Representatives from the Department of Consumer Affairs also attended, and while lauding the bill, expressed concerns that written contracts won’t forestall claims of non-delivery of or sub-standard services. In general, support for the bill seems to be strong. The Freelancers Union can take credit for conducting an effective and creative PR campaign. For example, on March 28, they published a “World’s Longest Invoice” webpage, with a  counter that totals the amount freelancers are submitting as owed. By 4 p.m. that day, the total had reached over $388,000.

The Graphic Artist Guild is a partner of the Freelancers Union, and supports the Freelance Isn’t Free bill.

(Below) In the Freelancers Union video, branding consultant Whitney Meers summarizes her support for the bill: “I support the Freelance Isn’t Free Campaign because nonpayment is theft.”

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