Roughly five years after the implementation, in New York City, of the Freelance Isn't Free Act, a local law intended to establish and enhance the rights of freelance workers—including authors, journalists, and other writers on contract—a similar law has been proposed at the state level.
On February 18, Democratic New York state senator Andrew Gounardes and assembly member Harry Bronson introduced S8369, also nicknamed “Freelance Isn’t Free,” a new bill intended to “protect contract and freelance workers from wage theft by ensuring all freelancers receive appropriate contracts for their work, are paid in a timely manner, and have state support to recoup unpaid wages.” It would, the lawmakers explained in a release, build upon the prior New York City bill, expanding the protections for freelancers state-wide.
The bill, should it become law, would also lower the threshold for mandating additional financial remediation from contractors to contract workers should the latter not be paid in a timely manner from $800 to $250. It would also make the New York State Labor Department the regulatory agency for freelancers in the state, including New York City, where, currently, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection oversees the protection of freelancers, but has no ability to pursue legal action against delinquent contract clients.
The move comes, the lawmakers noted, during a time in which roughly a third of working Americans are working freelance or on contract—a group that contributed nearly $1 trillion to the national economy in 2020, despite having no coverage under the National Labor Relations Act. “Freelance and contract workers play an essential role in our economy, and it’s far past time we make sure their rights as workers are fully protected statewide,” Sen. Gounardes said in a statement. “As unionization and workers’ rights efforts are growing throughout the country, it is our responsibility to protect freelancers all throughout New York State.”
Response to the proposed legislation has been lauded by such organizations as the Authors Guild and the National Writers Union.
“Over the years, NWU has collected millions of dollars for unpaid freelancers, sometimes in expensive court cases and other times by organizing the power of the freelancers to push back against deadbeat publishers,” Larry Goldbetter, president of the National Writers Union, Local 1981, said in a statement. “What's even more striking than the millions we have collected is the hundreds of millions that have gone uncollected as nonpayment and late payment has become a business model. Passing the Freelance Isn't Free law in New York State will be a giant step in making this model illegal and bringing independent contractors the protections of labor law they so deserve."
In her own statement, Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, said that the guild has “seen a dramatic increase in the number of complaints from writers about very late payment or nonpayment. It is not fair that workers paid on a 1099 rather than a W-2 basis have to chase down their pay.” She added: “The Freelance Isn’t Free Act ensures that freelance workers have enforceable contracts with employers and that they are paid on time and in full. It extends the law already proven successful in New York City to freelancers in the rest of the state. It is a step in the right direction for a vital segment of the state’s workforce.”