Springfield, IL — On Friday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzer signed the Freelance Worker Protection Act (HB1122) into law. The National Writers Union (NWU) celebrates Illinois setting a nationwide standard as it becomes the first state to enact legislation protecting freelance workers.
Under FWPA, sponsored by Representative Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago), freelancers who live in Illinois or perform work for an Illinois-based employer are guaranteed the right to a written contract and timely payment within 30 days of completing their work. Employers cannot ask freelancers to accept less pay in exchange for timely payment.
If delinquent employers fail to comply, the Illinois Department of Labor is empowered to initiate a complaint process that returns double damages for the affected freelancer. This expanded set of protections, as well as the enforcement resources of IDOL, are a necessary boon to freelancers, who frequently lack the resources to pursue delayed or withheld payment on their own.
FWPA, which will take effect July 1, 2024, builds on the success of Freelance Isn’t Free in New York City. FIF has helped freelancers recover more than $2.5 million in unpaid wages in New York. And on July 12, 2023, New York City announced a settlement with French publisher L’Officiel, in which over 40 freelancers will be paid more than $275,000. In addition to Illinois, 2023 has also seen the passage of laws protecting freelance workers in the cities of Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio.
As momentum builds nationwide to enact protections for freelancers, NWU urges New York Governor Kathy Hochul to sign the statewide Freelance Isn’t Free Act (S5026 / A6040). The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Harry Bronson and Senator Andrew Gounardes, overwhelmingly passed both houses of the state legislature in 2022, only for Governor Hochul to veto the bill at the last possible moment. But FIF passed again this year and once again awaits the governor’s signature. As more workers than ever become freelancers, both by choice and as the result of layoffs, New York runs the risk of falling behind.
The effort to pass FWPA in Illinois was led by NWU, with support from the Illinois-based Joint Council 25 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the IL State Fed (AFL-CIO). The effort to pass FIF in New York is led by NWU and the Freelancers Union, with support from The Authors Guild, the IBT, Graphic Artists Guild, National Press Photographers Association, and American Society of Media Photographers.
Roughly one third, or 59 million, Americans are freelancer or contract workers, including writers, editors, graphic artists, domestic workers, photographers, web designers, and more. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of working in America, giving rise to a steady increase in freelancers while 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. All freelancers deserve to be protected at work, to receive timely payment, and to be free from exploitation.
“Freelance workers are workers, entitled to full payment for their work. And considering the majority of freelancers report that they live ‘paycheck to paycheck,’ we need these statutory protections to help people stay afloat,” said Illinois Representative Will Guzzardi on May 11, after the bill was passed by the Illinois Senate.
“Without legal protections, contracting entities can exploit their freelance workers by not paying them on time for what they are owed, or bargaining with them to accept a lower wage than they deserve,” said former Illinois Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas after Senate passage of the bill. “Practices like this need to be put in check. This legislation will enshrine these basic workers’ rights for freelance employees in our state.”
“We applaud Governor Pritzker for signing the Freelance Worker Protection Act. Illinois is now the first and only state in the nation requiring that freelancers get paid for their work,” said Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union. “This law will improve on the collection of fees and enforcement of contracts, and set the bar for freelance legislation across the country. The recent settlement with L’Officiel proves it—this legislation works! We hope to see New York join Illinois soon.”
“New York’s freelancers are in need of and long overdue for real and meaningful protections — and Governor Pritzker signing strong protections into law for Illinois’ freelancers throws that need into even sharper relief,” said New York State Senator Andrew Gounardes. “I applaud Gov. Pritzker for taking steps to protect Illinois’ freelance workers, and I look forward to Gov. Hochul following suit by signing my Freelance Isn’t Free bill as soon as possible.”
“New York State has one of the largest freelance workforces in the country. For freelancers to be able to participate meaningfully in our economy, they need assurances that they will be paid for the work they do and guidelines are in place to protect their work,” said Rochester, New York Assemblymember Harry Bronson. “Governor Pritzker made a strong statement by signing the Freelance Worker Protection Act, and I encourage Governor Hochul to take a similar stance for New York’s economy.”
“All work deserves to be paid, which is why we are thrilled to celebrate Illinois taking a bold step forward in protecting the rights and livelihoods of freelancers with the signing of the Freelance Worker Protection Act. This momentous occasion marks a significant milestone for independent workers, not just in Illinois but sets a shining example for other states and the nation to follow,” said Rafael Espinal, President of the Freelancers Union. “The Freelancers Union commends Governor Pritzker, Representative Will Guzzardi and all those who supported and championed this bill. Thank you for understanding that a thriving freelance community translates to a stronger, more vibrant economy and that these protections are essential.”