Press Conference: April, 25, 2002
Today, Congressman John Conyers introduced a bill that would advance the union's top legislative priority and, arguably, the most important priority overall-gaining collective bargaining rights for freelance authors. Specifically, HR 4643 would grant freelance authors an exemption from anti-trust law. The introduction of the bill is the result of lobbying efforts your union (with the help of the United Auto Workers) has been making on Capitol Hill for the last several years to raise the awareness of our economic needs.
You might be scratching your head and wondering-what's anti-trust law got to do with this? Well, under the law, if you and a group of your writer friends get together and decide to demand $5 per word from The New York Times, you *might* find the Justice Department knocking on your door, wagging its enforcement figure at you and saying, "you can't get together and make that demand- that's setting prices in the marketplace and that's illegal." That's because we are considered independent contractors, not employees (employees have an exemption from the anti-trust laws for the purposes of collective bargaining)
Now, you would be right to think that it is quite absurd for writers to be subject to a law that was intended to prevent price setting by big oil companies or big media companies (and, yes, you are allowed a snort or two of indignation that anti-trust enforcement seems to be invisible these days when it comes to AOL TimeWarner). Fact is, though, it's a fact of life.
So, Congressman Conyers has taken the first step that could lead to a SUBSTANTIAL change in our ability to level the playing field in the economic marketplace and, as a result, have more power to demand additional fees for the use of our work and resist all- rights contracts.
This week, many NWU members have been contributing to this crucial campaign. The entire leadership of the NWU thanks the dozens of members who have been making visits this week, in conjunction with Copyright Awareness Week, to their Congressional representatives, as well as writing letters. We have been heartened by the response and we're optimistic that we will eventually be successful. We are also thrilled to be working with our sister UAW Local 3030, the Graphic Artists Guild. Finally, we are fortunate to have the expertise of Mary Rouleau of the International UAW's Washington office, who has worked tirelessly on the issue.
This will be a long fight, one that will likely stretch over many months and perhaps years. We hope that, as we come back to you with updates and requests for action in the future, every NWU member will consider taking a few hours to either personally visit a member of Congress, write a letter or spread the word. Ultimately, gaining collective bargaining rights will mean a better working life for you and every freelance writer in the country.