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Model Legislation to Stop Freelancer Wage Theft Passed in NYC

Seventy percent of freelancers report problems getting paid for their work. (Freelancers Union/Flickr)
Seventy percent of freelancers report problems getting paid for their work. (Freelancers Union/Flickr)
October 31, 2016

NEW YORK – A bill passed by the New York City Council to protect freelance workers from wage theft is being called a historic first. The Freelance Isn't Free Act passed unanimously late last week.

A report issued in 2015 found that 70 percent of New York City freelance workers reported problems getting paid.

Caitlin Pearce, director of member engagement at the Freelancers Union, said the measure will give them extra leverage if they have to take a client to court.

"The freelancer would be able to get double damages as well as attorney's fees,” Pearce said. “And clients who have repeated offenses might be liable for civil penalties as well."

The bill also requires a written contract for all work over $800, and establishes a formal mechanism for the Department of Consumer Affairs to enforce freelancers' labor rights. The category of “freelancer” includes self-employed people in a variety of fields, from writing, editing and photography to music and bookkeeping.

The Freelancers Union represents about 300,000 freelancers nationwide. According to Pearce, those who aren't getting paid are losing an average of $6,000 a year.

"It's really common for our members to go into debt, to rack up huge credit card bills, and to even have to rely on government assistance as a result of nonpayment,” Pearce said.

In the New York City metropolitan area, 38 percent of workers do freelance work, contributing $230 billion to the economy.

The Freelance Isn't Free Act is the first of its kind in the nation, but it will only apply in New York City. Pearce said that wage theft is a problem facing freelancers across the country.

"We now have a piece of legislation that can serve as a model, that can go to other cities and states that want to implement it,” she said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has not said whether he will sign the bill, but his office has signaled support for the legislation.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY