If you work as a freelancer in film, video, photography or design, you've either been or will get stiffed sooner or later. Up until now there wasn't all that much you could do about it. But it looks like that could be changing.
The organization known as Freelancers Union members and staff have been steadily building support for legislation to help freelancers collect what they are owed, and they are thrilled with the newly introduced, bipartisan Freelancer Payment Protection Act (S4129/A6698). This legislation mimics the language of the current labor law, which currently only protects traditional employees, and thus seeks to provide the same wage protection to independent contractors that New York has provided to the rest of the workforce for years.
If you’ve never been stiffed by a client yourself, know that the majority of independent contractors have difficulty collecting owed wages at some point in their careers, yet unlike traditional employees, they lack any labor protections to ensure they get paid for completed work. A recent study by Rutgers University economist William Rodgers shows that 42% of the nearly 900,000 independent workers in New York State had trouble collecting payment last year, totaling an estimated $4.7 billion in lost wages.
While waiting on their paychecks, many of these workers turn to credit cards or government assistance to meet their basic expenses. This highlights not only the disproportionate burden placed on these individuals to collect payments that are rightfully theirs, but also illustrates how much productivity is lost when they must spend time pursuing compensation instead of doing constructive work. All of New York stands to gain from this bill: the recovery and payment of the unpaid wages would generate an estimated $323 million in state tax revenue.
The Freelancer Payment Protection Act would mean that independent workers who are not paid by their clients could file a wage claim with the New York State Department of Labor. If the agency finds in their favor, the company or client could be personally liable for up to $20,000 in penalties and even face jail time.
Freelancers living in New York might want to take the time to email the sponsors of the bill to thank them for their leadership on this issue: Assemblyman Silver and Senators Golden, Lanza, and Squadron. Freelancers Union members are planning a lobby day in Albany on May 17th. in hopes to ensure the legislation is passed.