Sixty-Two Percent of NY Freelance Workers Report Never Being Paid for Work Performed, Says New Survey

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From The Authors Guild:

Survey also found that nearly 40 percent of freelancers have had difficulty paying rent or other bills due to nonpayment for services rendered

A survey by the Authors Guild, Freelancers Union, Graphic Artist Guild, American Society of Media Photographers, National Press Photographers Association, American Photographic Artists, and National Writers Union found that 62 percent of freelance workers based in New York had lost wages at least once in their career over an employer’s refusal to pay them. It also found that 51 percent of those who had lost income to nonpayment reported losing more than $1,000, and 22 percent reported losing more than $5,000.

The advocacy organizations conducted the survey as part of their efforts to persuade the New York State Assembly to pass the Freelance Isn’t Free Act (FIFA) (S8369/A9368) this session.

. . . .

If the bill passes, New York will become the first state in the nation to provide legal protections to freelance workers who live and work in New York state, as well as out-of-state freelancers who work for New York-based companies. Freelancers currently account for approximately 35 percent of the U.S. labor force and yet have none of the protections that employees have long had—even when doing the exact same job as an employee.

“In the five years since we helped secure the passage of New York City’s version of Freelance Isn’t Free, the law has helped freelancers recover $2,144,198 in owed compensation for their work. But freelancers don’t only work in New York City. From Buffalo to Albany, Montauk to Plattsburgh, companies use freelance workers for everything from manufacturing, construction, and warehouse work to website developers, writers and graphic designers, and they deserve the same legal protections as their NYC colleagues,” said Rafael Espinal, Executive Director of the Freelancers Union.

Additionally, the survey found that:

  • 91% of survey respondents reported experiencing late or overdue wages at least once in their career, with 54% reporting experiencing delays of 3 months or longer.
  • 79% of respondents attempted to recoup lost wages through their own demands (i.e. emails or phone calls). A majority of respondents claimed they had to communicate their demand to a client on multiple occasions (three times or more), with 76% of respondents reporting that they spent 1-2 hours a week trying to recoup payment. Less than one percent of respondents went through the legal system.
  • 39% of respondents said non or overdue payment affected their ability to pay bills or rent

. . . .

“Freelance journalism was hit especially hard during the pandemic. Loss of freelance journalism jobs was consistently cited as the first or second main reason for the decline in income by respondents to the Authors Guild’s COVID-19 Surveys,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild. “Forcing freelance writers to spend weeks or months chasing down earned wages further cuts into their wages because it takes time away from other paying work, and often forces them to accrue debt. It pushes people that are already struggling to earn a sustainable living to the brink and is deeply unfair. Publications that refuse to make payments on time should be held to account. And thanks to FIFA they will.”

. . . .

“Freelance journalists and business writers rarely make enough money to afford a lawyer, so it didn’t surprise me to see that less than one percent of respondents sought a legal remedy,” said Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union. “This reinforces FIFA’s need. Very few freelancers know what legal remedies are available or understand how small claims court works. If FIFA passes, the state will assume some responsibility for helping to make sure the freelancer gets paid, or can fine repeat offenders until they get the message.”

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

  1. Don’t do business with jerks.
  2. If you’re getting bad vibes about the person/organization who wants your services, just say no. You’re too busy to take on more work right now (meaning that you’re always too busy to do business with jerks).
  3. If you’re on the receiving end of a request for work, there’s nothing wrong with politely asking how the person found you.
  4. Before you agree to do anything, spend at least ten minutes online searching for any negative information about the person who wants to work with you. If you have friends in the same business you are in, ask around about the person/organization who wants you to help them.
  5. Get a big deposit up front. You’re a pro and that’s how professionals operate.
  6. Have a written contract that specifies, among other things, that any disputes arising under the contract, including failure to pay any fees when due, will be litigated in the county and state where you reside and that the counterparty consents to jurisdiction and venue in that location.
  7. The winner of any lawsuit arising under the contract is entitled to reasonable attorneys fees in an amount no less than $1,000 together with any court costs.

PG doesn’t write contracts any more, so this is not legal advice.

You’ll need to hire an attorney where you live to write a real contract for you.

5 thoughts on “Sixty-Two Percent of NY Freelance Workers Report Never Being Paid for Work Performed, Says New Survey”

  1. In SF there has been a long history of non-payment to freelancers, going back to the very first of the SF pulps under Hugo Gernsback:

    “Gernsback had built a publication empire, and was responsible for publishing many significant writers including E. E. “Doc” Smith, Philip Jose Farmer, Jack Williamson, Clifford D. Simak and Raymond Z. Gallun. Despite his success, he often alienated his authors by offering low pay, or sometimes no pay at all. After Donald Wollheim sued Gernsback in 1935 for failure to pay, Gernsback received the reputation of “payment upon lawsuit.” Other Gernsback detractors, such as Barry Malzberg, are quite vocal with their opinions. Malzberg stated in an article on “prozines” published in the Science Fiction Writers Association Bulletin, Volume 43 that “Gernsback’s venality and corruption, his sleaziness and his utter disregard for the financial rights of authors, have been so well documented and discussed in critical and fan literature, that the founder of genre science fiction who gave his name to the field’s most prestigious award and who was the Guest of Honor at the 1952 Worldcon was pretty much a crook (and a contemptuous crook who stiffed his writers but paid himself $100K a year as President of Gernsback Publications) has been clearly established.” This reputation did not cause new and potentially influential authors to flock to his stables, especially after Astounding Stories was launched by William Clayton in 1926. One might argue that Gernsback’s largest contribution to the science fiction field was to actually spur Clayton into developing Astounding Stories, which of course would later become the consistently influential and respected Analog Science Fact and Fiction.”

    NYC publishing is very traditionalist. 😀

  2. One wonders how this legislation will affect an even bigger problem in publishing, and indeed thoughout the arts (and it’s worse in NYC than perhaps anywhere else):

    The unpaid “internship.” Regardless of academic credit (or even considering it).

    Why yes, I am trying to start a Jerry-Springer-style free-for-all by even wondering about this.

  3. Sixty-Two Percent of NY Freelance Workers Report Never Being Paid for Work Performed, Says New Survey

    Anyone think we would ever see a headline like that about plumbers, accountants, or snow plowers?

    • Nope. They’ve got unions.

      OK, if they were foolish enough to work for subcontractors on a Trump property, maybe…

      • Accountants and snow plower unions?

        Trump properties? Any large project has lots of claims and counter claims going back and forth between the principal and contractors. Most revolve around scope changes. If the scope of work changes, the contractor is entitled to additional compensation. However, it’s normal for contractors to make lots of claims that do not have a supporting scope change.

        So, pick any large project in the country, and there are lots of claims that have been submitted, and denied because they do not involve a scope change.

        This never came out in the media because the media folks belong to the huge set of people who don’t know anything about the management of large projects. ( Somewhat like all those shovel-ready projects.)

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