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Relief for NYC Visual Artists: Freelance Isn’t Free Act Passes Unanimously

On October 27th, the New York City Council unanimously passed groundbreaking legislation supporting freelancers: the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act.” Introduced by Councilman Brad Lander last December, the act redresses the growing trend of non- or late payment experienced by 71% of New York City freelancers, according to a survey conducted by the Freelancers Union. The bill requires employers to make payment within 30 days after a freelancer renders a bill, and gives freelancers recourse through the Department of Consumer Affairs or through small claims court to enforce their rights.


Below: Councilman Lander’s jubilant tweet:


Non-payment is a huge issue for freelancers nationwide, as documented by the Freelancers Union.  In a nation-wide survey of over 5,000 freelancers conducted by the Union in July of 2015, 71% of respondents reported that they’ve had difficulty collecting payment over the course of their careers, and 50% of respondents said they’d encountered that within the previous year. Of those reporting difficulty in collecting payment, 34% were never paid. The survey results indicated that annually freelancers lose about $6,000 from nonpayment, and experience late payment on an average amount of $5,743. That’s a steep financial burden for most freelancers.

The act redresses non- and late payment of New York City freelancers by several means:

  • Clients (not freelancers) are required to issue a contract for any freelance work that will total $800 or more over a 3-month period;
  • Payment must be made within 30 days after serviced or rendered, or within an agreed-upon date;
  • Clients cannot press freelancers to accept a lower fee in exchange for timely payment;
  • Freelancers can file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs, or bring a court action against deadbeat clients;
  • If the court rules in the freelancer’s favor, the client may have to pay legal fees and fines up to double the owed amount; and
  • Repeat violators may be fined by the city up to $25,000.


For the act to be written into law, it must be signed by Mayor Bill DiBlasio. However, indications are that will happen, and support for the bill is widespread, as evinced by the unanimous vote. NYC Public Advocate Letitia James is a vocal supporter of the bill, which she and 32 City Council members co-sponsored. The Gothamist also reported that in an email communication, City Hall spokesperson Rosemary Boeglin indicated support for “laws that protect all New York City workers.”

In addition to conducting the payment survey, the Freelancers Union ran an extensive campaign to publicize and promote the act. Union founder Sara Horowitz co-wrote an op-ed on the issue with Brad Lander, the Union marshaled freelancers to rally at City Hall, and Union members testified before the city council. The Freelancers Union also ran an online petition supporting the act, published freelancer payment horror stories, and posted “The World’s Longest Invoice,” a running tally of the amount owed to freelancers.

Now that the act is practically a reality, the Union isn’t done. They’d like to take the initiative national, encouraging freelancers to propose similar legislation in their municipalities. They’ve kept up their petition to “Bring the Freelance Isn’t Free Act to your city.” So far almost 10,000 freelancers have signed it. The Graphic Artists Guild was proud to back the Freelance Isn’t Free act in New York City. We hope to have the opportunity to do so elsewhere.



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