Support Builds for NYS “Freelance Isn’t Free” Bill

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Support Builds for “Freelance Isn’t Free” Bill to Protect Freelancers Against Wage Theft Statewide

One-Third of Americans Are Freelance or Contract Workers; 

S8369/A9368 Would Ensure Freelancers Receive Contracts, Payment

Senator Gounardes, Assembly Member Bronson, and Advocates, kicked off lobby day with rally for “Freelance Isn’t Free” bill

Albany, NY — Today, State Senator Andrew Gounardes, Assembly Member Harry Bronson, and other elected state officials joined dozens of supporters to rally for the “Freelance Isn’t Free” legislation, kicking off a ‘lobby day’ in Albany. S8369/A9368 would protect contract and freelance workers from wage theft by ensuring all freelancers receive contracts for their work, are paid in a timely manner, and have state support to recoup unpaid wages. 

Since the bill’s introduction in February, the legislative and community support has grown immensely. Senators who have signed on to co-sponsor the bill in the Senate include Senator Biaggi, Senator Cleare, Senator Hoylman, Senator Jackson, Senator Myrie, Senator Krueger, Senator Salazar, Senator Sepulveda, and Senator Skoufis. In the Assembly, the list of co-sponsors now includes: Assemblymember Cruz, Assemblymember Rozic, Assemblymember Simon, Assemblymember Reyes, Assemblymember Bichotte Hermelyn, Assemblymember Cymbrowitz, and Assemblymember Seawright. 

Additionally, a number of organizations have added their voices to the growing momentum of support, including the Freelancers Union, the National Writers Union, Authors Guild, the National Press Photographers Association, the Graphic Artists Guild, the American Photographic Artists, the American Society of Media Photographers, the Teamsters Graphic Communications Conference, the Science Writers in New York, the National Association of Science Writers, the Writers Guild of America East, NewsGuild, Dance Artists National Collective, New York Direct Coalition, the Models Alliance, and more.

Sen. Gounardes and the “Freelance Isn’t Free” bill both featured in numerous publications at the time of its release, including Lithub, Gotham Gazette, Capitol Pressroom, and the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC

“Since I introduced the “Freelance Isn’t Free” bill in the New York Senate in February, more and more legislators, organizations, and community members alike have added their voices in support of these protections,” said Senator Andrew Gounardes. “Ensuring that the rights of freelance and contract workers are fully protected statewide is long overdue, and I look forward to my bill finally making that protection a reality.”

Senator Brad Hoylman said, “Freelancers are some of our most vulnerable working populations, and this doesn’t have to be the case. With Senator Gounardes and Assembly Member Bronson’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act, New York can grant our freelance workers the proper protections to ensure the money they earn goes back into their pockets. No freelancer should have to deal with wage theft or non-payments – being self-employed comes with enough of its own challenges. I applaud my colleagues for championing this issue, which Albany must address this session.”

Senator Robert Jackson said, “Freelance and contract workers play an essential role in this state’s economy, and we must protect them from wage theft, make sure that they are paid on time, and have state support to recoup unpaid wages. Strengthening the workforce in our state is a high priority for me as Chair of Civil Service & Pensions. I am a proud co-sponsor of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act because passing this bill will be a giant step towards bringing independent contractors the protections of labor law they deserve. It’s far past time we make sure their rights as workers are fully protected statewide.”

Senator Liz Krueger said, ​​“Wage theft is theft, plain and simple, whether the victim is a contracted employee or a freelancer. Freelancers are an integral part of our society and our economy, providing vital services, paying taxes, and supporting families and communities. They deserve to have their rights in the workplace protected. I thank Senator Gounardes and Assembly Member Bronson for taking the lead on this important issue.”

Senator Shelley B. Mayer said:”As we build back from the pandemic, we have the opportunity and responsibility to increase protections for vulnerable workers, including independent contractors. Without essential protections of our labor laws, these workers have been at risk of exploitation and lost wages.  It is essential that we pass Freelance Isn’t Free (S8369) to expand protections for freelance workers, providing the right to a written contract, ensuring payments to which they are entitled in a timely fashion, protecting against retaliation, as well as providing a process for recovering wages and resolving disputes.  It is essential that all workers are paid for the work they perform, and I thank Senator Gounardes for his leadership on this important issue.”  

“Far too often, we hear from our members across New York that they have experienced client non-payment. Furthermore, they spend even more time and funds fighting to bring these unscrupulous clients accountable. In 2017, we fought to create the Freelance Isn’t Free Act for NewYork City freelancers and since then the city has recovered $2.1 billion in unpaid contracts,” said Rafael Espinal, President of the Freelancers Union. “As more New Yorkers pivot to freelance work, it’s time to make sure that all freelancers have access to these vital protections and it’s why I’m proud to join Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Bronson in introducing the New York State Freelance Isn’t Free Act.”

“Since 2017, the NYC Freelance Isn’t Free law has collected more than $2 billion in unpaid fees for freelance workers,” said Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union. The New York State law will improve on the collection of fees and enforcement of contracts, by lowering the eligibility threshold for freelancers that would be protected by the law, and capturing a much wider pool of freelance workers, especially Black, immigrant and women freelancers, who are most often at the lower end of the payment schedule.”

“It is shocking to see how many authors and other freelance writers are not paid on time or at all. Many companies treat their freelance workers far worse than their employees. Why? Because they can get away with it. Companies that would not think of not paying their employees in the normal course of business – consistently make freelance workers chase them down to be paid,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild. She continued, “The lack of legal protections for freelance workers needs to be rectified, and the Freelance Isn’t Free Act is an important step in that direction. It will ensure that freelance workers have enforceable contracts with employers and that they are paid on time and in full.”

Roughly one third, or 59 million Americans, are freelance or contract workers. Together these workers contributed nearly $1 trillion to the national economy in 2020. Freelancers, who are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, have no clear legal recourse against wage theft, discrimination, harassment, or other forms of 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 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 $250 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.

As of now, the New York City law states that freelancers who are owed a minimum of $800 for their services are protected within NYC. S8369 would lower the threshold, by protecting freelancers who are owed a minimum of $250 for their services statewide. 

The bill would also ensure freelancers all across the state have access to increased enforcement resources. Under the New York City law, the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection oversees the protection of freelancers in NYC, but are not empowered to go after delinquent clients. Should S8369 become law, the New York State Labor Department would be the regulatory agency for freelancers.  This increased capacity will be crucial, as enforcement is a key part of this legislation. For example, if a client refuses to provide a contract to a freelancer within NYS, the client can face a $250 penalty in court. Clients would be legally barred from retaliating against a freelancer for pursuing payment. New York State would be responsible for investigating any claims of non-payment, retaliation, or contract violation, may try to collect on the freelancer’s behalf, providing court navigation services if necessary. Finally, freelancers would be able to collect double damages, and attorney’s fees, in court.