President’s Report to the NEB Meeting – September 16, 2017

Bill Phipps - ACT-UAW 7902

This report comes at a very opportune moment. Since Labor Day, we filed a case in Cook County, IL on behalf of 39 Ebony freelancers, signed a contract with The Nation magazine (see Dave Hill’s report) and had our annual in-person meeting with the Authors Coalition of America (good news and bad news). We’re playing more of a role internationally, through IFJ and with Edward completing the first year of a three-year term on the IFRRO Board (see the Book Division report). We’re working with more writers’ organizations, building new alliances, and continuing to serve our members despite serious financial constraints that are growing more serious.

Ebony

You can see the story on the Ebony lawsuit here. On the one hand, this is a mass non-payment grievance action. But mainly it is an organizing effort that reaches beyond the Ebony freelancers we are representing. Last April, unpaid Ebony writers started using the hashtag #Ebonyowes. When it was brought to our attention, we began interacting with and contacting freelancers directly on twitter.

When Ebony’s new owners, Clear View Group (CVG), saw some organizing going on, they promised to pay everyone in full by July 1. Instead, they paid a handful of people in full, and we never heard from them again. CVG is a named defendant in the case.

Over the summer, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) gave Ebony the Thumbs Down award (with Fox News) and we were invited by President Sarah Glover and VP Marlon Walker to come to their convention in NOLA. I went with four Ebony freelancers from Chicago, DC and PA. It was the first time all of us met in person despite months of calls and emails, They were great and if we can manage to hold onto them, will make a great contribution to NWU. The story about the NABJ Convention is here.

Maybe the most important aspect of the NABJ trip was establishing good ties with the organization. There were more than 3,000 delegates at the convention and we got a very warm response, including being interviewed for NABJ TV which ran on a loop throughout the convention.  We have a chance to be involved with NABJ throughout the year, and to help plan a panel on freelancing for next year’s convention as well as becoming involved in their Freelancer’s Task Force.

I want to add that the International UAW agreed to reimburse our expenses for this trip as we presented it as an organizing expense, which it is. We’ve gathered upwards of 45 new members directly through this campaign and have attracted the attention of many other freelancers who have weighed in online. The International’s Legal Dept. also agreed to accept this case and contracted a labor law firm in Chicago to represent us. The International UAW is covering all legal expenses. It won’t cost our members or NWU.

This raises another issue, as we’ve got a group of writers at Uptown magazine that want to us to do for them what we’ve done at Ebony. And hopefully there will be many more. It seems like we should try to establish a good working relationship between NWU and Lawyers for the Arts or some other non-profit pro bono law firms that might be able to handle some of this as I suppose the UAW won’t accept every case we bring to them (maybe they will!).

Also, five more writers have asked to be included in the Ebony case. We’re waiting for the first conference with the judge where we will make a request to file an amended complaint that will include them.

Freelance Isn’t Free Law

As many of you know, last year we helped to pass the Freelance Isn’t Free Law (FIF) in NYC, which went into effect on May 15. The new law, the first of its kind in the US, requires all contract workers to get a written contract that stipulates payment in 30 days of completion of the contract. This could be a useful tool for those writers who face non-payment issues from NYC-based publishers.

The new law is being administered by the Office of Labor Policy and Standards (OLPS), New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). We have testified before the OLPS on several occasions and will attend the release of the OLPS Report on the State of Workers’ Rights in New York City on Wednesday, September 20, 2017.  

The report addresses issues affecting workers in New York City, such as the incidence of workplace violations and the challenges workers face in enforcing their rights, and specific issues faced by immigrant, home care and domestic and contingent workers.  The report is based on the testimony presented at an OLPS April 25 public hearing that Mauricio and I attended, at which close to 40 workers and several dozen organizations, including NWU, testified.  The report will examine what can be done to help fill the gap in workers’ rights protection left by the Trump administration.

Along with the report, survey results will also be released from a collaboration between OLPS and the Cornell Workers Institute that shows overwhelming majorities of NYC residents want the City to do more to protect workers and immigrants.

One added result of the work around winning this new law is a closer relationship with the Freelancer’s Union. They have a very broad reach, and estimate having 10,000 freelance writers among their “members.” They have been very generous in sending out our press releases on the social media, and have even referred a few of their freelancers to us.

ACA

The Author Coalition had our annual in-person meeting in NYC on September 6. There was good news and bad news. The good news is that there has been more discussion of late of issues in the industry and advocacy.  Mary Rasenberger, the Executive Director of the Author’s Guild, seems to understand that the AG cannot go it alone, and is more open to cooperating with the other coalition members.  At this meeting, it was suggested that we have a regular monthly meetings on policy issues, as our own organizations, not representing the ACA. A number of coalition members are 501(c)(3)s, and are very wary of taking advocacy positions that might endanger their status and funding.

As these meetings are not official ACA meetings, they are not restricted to the “designated reps” of each organization.  I suggest Edward and I participate, as Edward is a leading advocate within our union and also on the IFRRO Board and engaged with some of our IFJ colleagues.  We agreed to create an email list for those interested where we can share information about issues we are following or advocacy issues we are engaged in as a follow up or in preparation for each call. Michael Capobianco, our long-term friend and ally in SFWA, has offered to help administer these calls. 

The bad news is that the decline in revenue from ACA will not be changing anytime soon. We are expected to receive less this year than last, though there are few specific numbers. Income from the various collecting organizations is down across the board. Originally, we were hampered by the strong dollar relative to the Euro. This has been compounded by the fact that fewer collections are actually coming in. The money we get from ACA can only be spent on education and advocacy work and cannot be used for operating expenses and salaries. We used to get about $150,000/year. This year could be about $80,000, a significant drop.

We have attached the ACA form to our online membership application, so everyone who joins the union has already registered for ACA. Our numbers should increase even as the amount of the distributions falls.

IFJ and O-1 Visa Letters

 Our work with and through the IFJ continues to modestly expand. As pointed out earlier, we nominated Edward to be the IFJ rep on the IFRRO Board. We represented the IFJ at the UN for International Press Freedom Day, and Brigid O’Farrell and I represented the IFJ Gender Committee at this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women.

We also hosted panels in NYC with colleagues from Somalia and Turkey, and while Edward was in Brussels he attended an IFJ meeting defending journalists around the world.

One of the more tangible results from our relationship with IFJ is giving freelance writers access to the IFJ press card. For the past few years we have averaged 50 cards a year, each with a two-year membership and a high renewal rate (and sometimes an even higher dues rate).  This year that number is going up as we have sold 43 YTD.  This more than covers our annual dues to IFJ. Interestingly, the IFJ asked my opinion on the AG’s request for an associate membership in IFJ, since they are not a union. I think they are also eyeing the IFJ press cards as a way to service their membership and attract freelancers.

On the related note of our providing O-1 visa peer review letters for writers outside the US seeking three-year visas as “Aliens of Extraordinary Ability,” we have become somewhat the recommended choice of numerous immigration law firms and the USCIS. In 2012, we provided seven letters. Last year we provided 70. This year, we have provided 48 YTD.

Cornell A&E Workers Resource Center (WRC)

We’ve been working with the Cornell Arts and Entertainment Workers Resource Center. We’ve been invited to be a formal partner on the project and join the Steering Committee, along with the WGA-East, Local802 AFM, and AGMA.  The focus of the WRC is to concentrate on young A&E workers, especially workers of color and women, speak to their needs and direct them to the unions they could be a part of and may not even know they exist. There is no cost to participating A&E unions.

They have met with the NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and the Office of Labor Policy and Standards in the Department of Consumer Affairs, the same office overseeing the Freelance Isn’t Free law. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is also supporting the WRC. 

There have been focus groups with dancers and actors and they want to hold several more with other arts and media workers, including writers. They are also working on a survey that will help us get broader input from the young arts workers and will be assembling a Young Worker Advisory Committee.

The National Office

The National Office continues to function with Jeanise and I holding down the fort. We’ve invested in software and hardware that streamline some operations, like press passes and membership cards. Also, Mitzi has been doubling as Financial Secretary/Treasurer and Bookkeeper, so we are able to keep our heads above water with the current rate of traffic.

We continue to have occasional database issues (who doesn’t?), as we have been passed on to yet another vendor, who is skilled in Civi CRM but not familiar with what we do, so there are added problems getting things taken care of. The balance in the office is best described as “fragile.” The latest scheduled upgrade caused some problems and when Jeanise was on the phone with the vendor, it was clear he had very little idea what we do or how we do it. As a result, this month’s membership cards have been delayed. If we stay with them, we need to have them spend a day with us. Or maybe we’ll look elsewhere.

At times we have either had volunteers offer to help out and occasionally we have paid to get certain tasks done. I’m hoping to work out a schedule to get Mauricio and Dave into the office once every other week, to help out but also so we can talk and collaborate more.

As you know, the rent here, now at $4,100/month, is killing us. The good news is our 10-year lease is up in April. I’ve already informed the Region office and our Sister locals on the 7th floor that we will be leaving. The ultimate plan is to move into a Central Labor Council Labor Center that will be both for unions to buy in, or rent. But a site hasn’t been chosen and the project is at least five years away.

In the meantime, all four locals are working with the same real estate broker handling  the CLC Labor Center to try and find us a new place to land. This week we looked at four spaces at 50 Broadway, a building owned by the UFT. It may be that we will all go in different directions until the Labor Center is ready. We’re looking for a 5-year lease. 

Also, there is the possibility of us negotiating a 5 year lease extension where we are, with possibly one of the other locals renting half of our office. That’s the only way we could stay. Another fly in the ointment is that the current owners are selling our building (the fourth owner since we’ve been there), and until all the details are settled, there’s no one to negotiate with. No one can say what the new owners will or won’t do. So, we continue to look.

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