Freelance Solidarity Project Report
In the spring of 2018, a group of freelancers began meeting in the offices of the Writers Guild of America, East. Many of us had been on the organizing or bargaining committees at publications that had unionized with the WGAE; many more of us had been laid off, or accepted buyouts, or
become freelance digital media workers though what is, for our industry, an increasingly common mix of choice and circumstance. We had seen the gains that collective bargaining could provide for staff workers, and we wondered—how could we, as freelancers, apply those same gains to our work? How can we advocate for ourselves and our colleagues, even outside
the traditional definitions of a bargaining unit? How could we set, and then raise, industry standards?
The distinctions between staff, contract, permalance, and freelance are increasingly porous, and most digital media workers will move between these designations at multiple points throughout our careers. As more and more publications become union shops, we wanted to find a way to
build solidarity between freelancers and staffers—to acknowledge that management often pits these workers against each other, periodically turning freelancers into de facto scabs or framing permanent positions as hard-won rewards for a lucky few. To build solidarity, we must
acknowledge that the digital media industry, like the entire labor movement, is now predominantly made up of gig workers in precarious conditions. Our organizing must evolve to include the needs of freelance workers, both because they are equally deserving of the rights and protections of labor law and because so many people will become or are currently freelancers themselves.
We formed the Freelance Solidarity Project as a volunteer collective at first, and began to plan a mix of strategic and social initiatives to build community and explore what forms of mobilizing or organizing were available to us. After a year of organizing as a volunteer collective, in the
spring of 2019, we voted to join the National Writers Union as a distinct division of freelance digital media workers. We have recently elected an organizing committee: a group of volunteers who have committed to a one-year term to lead organizing and mobilizing efforts, continue to build a network and community within our industry and across the broader labor
movement, and develop new leaders who can continue to fight for more dignity, security, and strength in our work and in the industry.
We wanted to join the National Writers Union for many reasons—primarily, the parallels between the initial formation of the NWU in 1981, and the times we live in now. We visited the archives at NYU and studied the original Letters of Agreement that were negotiated with publications, and in truth, were shocked at what were considered to be fair conditions for
freelance work. It is jaw-dropping to consider that, in less than forty years, those standards have fallen so low.
More recently, our members have been impressed with the NWU’s work collecting grievances and pursuing non-payments on behalf of freelance writers who were being exploited by media companies. We believed that the past and the present of the NWU’s organizing strategies and victories are an opportunity for us to reconnect to our history of writers, and commit
to a future for the union that includes many different types of workers.
In keeping with the NWU’s status as an open shop, the Freelance Solidarity Project is open to any digital media worker, whether they are writers, editors, social media managers, fact-checkers, copy-editors, audio or video producers, illustrators, photographers, designers, and more. We believe no worker is an island, and we recognize how intertwined and crucial
these various roles are.
As well, much like the porous nature of our worker designations, the boundaries between types of labor has become similarly fluid; many writers are expected to do their own fact-checking, and photographers often write captions or essays accompanying their own work, while media
training for on-air or streaming content, or appearances on podcast, have become standard at most new and legacy media corporations.
We currently have approximately 170 members, and are aiming to have 200 by the end of the year. Our expectations for all members is that they will be active and dedicated to leading and participating in the ongoing organizing work. We are establishing simple and effective tools that will allow all members to submit proposals for events, subcommittees, strategic initiatives, and administration.
The organizing committee is made up of chairs, each of them responsible for different kinds of internal and external organizing. Our members know that they will be available and accessible to answer any questions, and support their projects and goals in any way they can. They are as
○ Co-Chairs – Oversee and communicate with all recurring and project-based committees on all current and proposed activities in order to facilitate meetings and lead votes/discussions
■ Stella Becerril
■ Haley Mlotek
○ Communication Chairs – Develop strategies for effectively communicating
the aims, goals, campaigns, and accomplishments of the project
■ Frida Garza
■ Emma Whitford
○ Community Chairs – Lead ongoing efforts to serve and support existing
members, to recruit and support new members, and identify, build, and
strengthen relationships with current and future coalition partners
■ Brendan O’Connor
■ Ariel Zambelich
○ Event Chairs – build community through recurring social events such as
happy hours, a presence at relevant book fairs, etc.
■ Michael Baginski
○ Secretaries – Responsible for all administrative duties
■ Charlotte Shane
■ Clio Chang
○ Strategy Chairs – Identify areas for new campaigns, both within media and in support of parallel efforts in other industries; review and respond to
strategy proposals from all members
■ Daisy Alioto
■ Alex Lubben
○ Treasurer – Responsible for managing finances as determined by budget
■ David Hill
This committee has been meeting monthly and has been responsible for planning and running monthly general membership meetings and new member orientations. Beginning with this month, we are also planning to organize monthly social events in New York for outreach and
In 2020, we plan to work with members to identify publications where we can negotiate Letters of Agreement. We know that individual agreements won’t raise standards across the industry, but believe that, over time, we can establish baseline standards for media freelancers. We will
focus on sympathetic publications and on shops that have already negotiated contracts with WGAE and NewsGuild where we can leverage the support from unionized staffers. We have already started our first campaign at The Intercept, and our committee will begin negotiating
with management in January.
We also plan to revamp Who Pays Writers and combine it with similar rate-sharing projects, like Litebox for illustrators.
We will work with the NWU on important legislative efforts for media freelancers, such as improving AB5 in California and passing strong legislation in New York to protect freelancers against wage theft. We will push to expand the Freelance Isn’t Free law to the state legislature
and to other cities and states.
We also want to work closer with the NWU’s Grievance and Contract Division to train FSP members to assist other members with contract assistance and in non-payment grievances.
We have already identified new group non-payment grievances and brought them to the union’s attention; as we grow, our membership will see a greater demand for GCD services.
Over the next year, we hope to work with our members to establish a presence on college campuses, work more closely with other media unions, support to audio and visual digital media workers, educational initiatives to encourage leadership growth, and administrative infrastructure that will provide the foundation for our work going forward.
We expect that these subcommittees will bring even more projects for us to take on.
This work is complex in many ways. We are well-acquainted with the limitations of labor law when organizing freelancers, and the ways in which freelance labor is often devalued and dismissed. At the same time, we believe that it is our right and our duty to use every tool we have in order to fight for better protections. We live in a chaotic world, and work in an increasingly unstable industry, yet we know that to wait for more stability would be to miss the moment when we can effect the most change.
We look forward to working closely with the National Writers Union in the years to come, and to supporting the efforts of the wider membership as we draw on their support in turn.
The Freelance Solidarity Project Organizing Committee