The National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981 filed a lawsuit against Ebony Media Operations and its parent company, Clear View Group, LLC., for violating the contracts of dozens of freelance writers collectively owed more than $70,000. The case was filed in Cook County, IL.
The lawsuit names 37 unpaid writers, editors and other creatives Ebony failed to compensate for contributions to its print or web publications. NWU President Larry Goldbetter says this action was the necessary next step in the fight to organize freelancers when publishers seek to exploit creative labor.
“Oftentimes, freelancers are at the mercy of the publications they write for,” Goldbetter said. “They often lack union protections other workers have and many are afraid of being blackballed for speaking up about nonpayment.
“This group of freelancers took major steps not only for themselves, but for their colleagues at other publications. We’re sending a message that you have to honor your contracts and pay the writers.”
As the hashtag #EbonyOwes started to trend the union began organizing Ebony freelancers on Twitter. Ebony Media issued a statement to NBC BLK promising to pay all freelancers in full by the first week of July. When they failed to make good on that, the National Association of Black Journalists gave Ebony the Thumbs Down Award (with Fox News).
“It’s really shameful,” A.J. Springer, one of the writers in the suit stated. “A lot of us grew up reading Ebony, so to have to take this to court is beyond disappointing. But as journalists, we are truth tellers who stand on the side of right. Ebony is clearly wrong.”
The union estimates that as much as $200,000 may be owed to freelancers by Ebony, but as Goldbetter notes, this situation isn’t unique to the once heralded African-American publication.
“Non-payment is an epidemic for freelance writers. That is why we joined the campaign to establish the Freelance Isn’t Free law in NYC last year. Many publishers feel they can treat individual freelancers any way they want. What’s different here is that EBONY freelancers are standing together, as a Union, and they are drawing a lot of attention in the industry. We’re hearing from writers at other publications as well.”
Chicago-based law firm Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck, P.C. is handling the suit on behalf of the union.