Freelance Still Isn’t Free

Senator Gounardes, Assemblymember Bronson Re-Introduce Legislation to

Protect Rights & Wages of Freelancers Statewide

‘Freelance Isn’t Free’ would extend protections to independent workers statewide; was passed by the NYS legislature last session, but vetoed by the Governor

Albany, NY – Today, State Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Harry Bronson reintroduced their Freelance Isn’t Free bill (S5026), which would protect contract and freelance workers from wage theft by ensuring all freelancers receive appropriate contracts for their work, are paid within 30 days of their work, and have state support to recoup unpaid wages. A prior version of the bill, S8369, was passed by the legislature last session but ultimately vetoed by the Governor late last year.

The state-wide Freelance Isn’t Free legislation would build on a 2017 New York City bill, introduced by then-Councilmember Brad Lander by requiring written contracts to be given for any worker receiving more than $800 for their work, and providing workers with additional financial remedies if the contractor tries to avoid paying them. The bill would also expand protections state-wide.

“From Brooklyn to Buffalo, freelancers across New York deserve their rights as workers to be fully protected,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes. “As workers continue to unionize and stand up for their rights across the country, it is our responsibility as a legislature to recognize the needs of this too-often overlooked workforce, and make these protections law for all New Yorkers.”

“In my many years as a labor attorney and now as a member of the New York State Assembly, I know that independent contractors are not protected by the same minimum wage laws as regular employees and generally ineligible for unemployment and workers compensation, are some of the most exposed laborers in our state when it comes to wage theft,” said Assemblymember Harry Bronson. “Freelance workers are a rapidly growing sector of the economy. Our legislation is a commonsense approach to ending the economic discrimination against freelancers and putting a value on their contributions.”

“Wage theft is a major issue for freelance workers! In 2016, the New York City Council passed the landmark Freelance Isn’t Free Act (FIFA),” said Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union. “Between 2017-2021, the law has collected $2.5 million in unpaid fees and penalties for more than 700 freelance workers, with no increase in staffing to the NYC Office of Labor Policy & Standards (OLPS). The law works and every freelance worker in New York State deserves this protection.”

“In any other line of work  non-payment would be immediately rejected as a major labor violation, but unfortunately, freelancers do not get afforded the same protections under the law,” said Rafael Espinal, Executive Director of the Freelancers Union. “We will not stop until freelancers across New York State and the country have the protections they need to get paid on time and work with dignity and respect. We thank Senator Gounardes and our coalition for coming back again – stronger than ever –  to pass the Freelance isn’t Free Act. We urge Governor Hochul to work with us in the legislative process to ensure its signage into law.”

“New York State spoke clearly and forcefully last year when Freelance Isn’t Free passed by more than a two to one margin in the Senate,” said Eric Thurm, campaigns coordinator of the National Writers Union. “In doing so, the legislature took steps to ensure that New York kept up with both the changing nature of its economy and the reality of the kinds of work being done in our state. Hundreds of thousands of freelancers deserved basic protections then, and they deserve them now. We’re grateful to our sponsors for continuing to fight for freelancers, and we look forward to working with them to guarantee that Freelance Isn’t Free becomes law.”

Roughly one third, or 59 million Americans are freelancer or contract workers, with New York being home to the largest population of independent contractors. The pandemic has further changed the landscape of working in America and has steadily given rise to an increase in freelancers, while also highlighting the lack of protections offered for this growing labor sector. A recent study by the Independent Economy Council found that 74% of respondents are not getting paid on-time while 59% are owed $50,000 or more for already completed work. Freelancers across New York State deserve to be protected at work, to receive timely payment and be free from exploitation.

Freelancers experience contract violations, non-payment and retaliation for pursuing payment.  According to a 2019 study collaboration between Upwork and the Freelancers Union, 74% of freelancers have reported experiencing late or non-payment, 59% of freelancers report that they live “paycheck to paycheck,” and freelancers lose, on average, $5,968 a year to wage theft,. Only 28% of freelancers say that they consistently have a written contract for work.

The Freelance Isn’t Free Act would guarantee:

  • Mandatory contracts: Anyone who hires a freelancer for over $250 or aggregates a total of $800 or more of work over a 4 month period must have a contract outlining the scope of work, rate, method of payment, and the payment due date. The burden of having a contract falls on the client – not the freelancer. If a client refuses to use a contract, the client can face a $250 penalty in court

  • 30-day payment terms: Payment must be received on or before the due date specified in the contract. If the contract does not specify payment due dates, clients must pay their freelancers within 30 days of completion of work specified in the contract.

  • Payment agreement protections: Clients cannot require that freelancers accept less than the contract stipulates in exchange for timely payment (ie: “We can pay you faster, but only if you accept less.”)

  • Anti-retaliation: Clients cannot retaliate against a freelancers for pursuing payment

  • Legal assistance: The state will be responsible for investigating, may try to collect on the freelancer’s behalf, and will provide court navigation services if necessary.

  • Double damages: Freelancers can collect double damages for wage theft, and attorney’s fees in court