Noam Scheiber, As Freelancers’ Ranks Grow, New York Moves to See They Get What They’re Due
NYC will 'level the playing field' so that freelancers can demand redress from clients that are slow to pay.
Great news in New York City for freelancers, as a result of pressure from groups like the Freelancers Union, led by Sara Horowitz. The New York City Council has unanimously voted in favor of regulations that will protect freelancers against wage theft, and may be the first in the country:
Known as the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, the measure requires anyone hiring a freelance worker to agree in writing to a timetable and procedure for payment, and increases the potential awards to freelancers bringing legal complaints against those who have failed to pay them promptly.
The bill represents one of the earliest policy efforts to grapple directly with the growth in the so-called gig economy — a term that typically refers to the likes of temporary workers, contract workers, independent contractors and freelance workers. According to one estimate by the economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger, this group grew to almost 16 percent of the work force in late 2015 from roughly 10 percent in early 2005.
“New York is in some ways at the center of the gig economy, of the evolution of the economy to more independent and contingent work,” Brad Lander, the councilman who introduced the legislation, said.
But Mr. Lander, Democrat of Brooklyn, added that the existing employment and labor laws are “so badly outdated they don’t give the basic protections all workers expect, much less broader support and benefits to all workers in the growing gig economy.”
The Freelancers Union, a group that played a key role in shaping the measure, estimates that there are nearly 4 million freelancers in the New York metropolitan area. A recent survey by the group found that half of all freelancers nationwide said they had encountered trouble getting paid in 2014, and that more than 70 percent struggled to collect payment at some point in their careers.
Sara Horowitz, the union’s executive director, said one of the bill’s most consequential provisions could be the requirement of a written contract for any freelance relationship for which the compensation is at least $800 over a four-month period.
“One of the things that trips people up is they go to sue in Small Claims Court and try to get a judgment and they don’t have a contract,” she said. “You’re left with, ‘We had a conversation. I wrote down these notes.’”
The bill also stipulates that freelancers who do not receive full payment on time are to receive double damages if they win in court. So, for example, freelancers who previously would have been awarded $5,000 in damages from a company that failed to pay them would collect $10,000 if they prevailed. On top of that, the court would automatically require the company to pay their legal fees and would award an additional amount if there were no contract or an incomplete contract.
Next step, getting these sensible and forward-looking regulations enacted state-by-state, and nationally.