Freelancers Aren't Free: Mayor Announces First in Nation Protections for Freelance Workers

May 15, 2017

DCA, Freelancers Union celebrated access to written contracts, timely payment, and freedom from retaliation for roughly 500,000 freelance workers

NEW YORK —Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced that the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, the first law of its kind in the country, is now in effect. To mark its implementation, the Department of Consumer Affairs conducted a Day of Action with various partners to educate New Yorkers, launched a social media campaign, and co-hosted a launch event with Freelancers Union at LMHQ, a collaborative workspace in Lower Manhattan. The Law gives freelance workers the legal right to written contracts, timely payment, and freedom from retaliation. Under the Law, freelance workers can now file a complaint with DCA’s Office of Labor Policy & Standards, which will also provide court navigation services to freelance workers pursuing their claims in court and survey freelance workers about their experiences pursuing their claims under the Law in court. There are an estimated 500,000 freelance workers that will benefit from this legislation, based on a 2013 study by DOF of New Yorkers receiving 1099-MISC tax forms (a common income tax form for individuals operating as contingent “freelance” workers).

“Freelancers aren’t free,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “It’s now the law in New York City that they be paid on time, have the written contracts they deserve and have the tools to defend their rights.”

“This Law is an important step toward securing financial stability for the many freelance workers who bring their talents to companies but then struggle to make ends meet because of unpaid wages and broken promises,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “By requiring hiring parties to issue written contracts, we can better ensure that workers are paid on time and in full. DCA’s Office of Labor Policy & Standards is committed to working on behalf of all freelancers to create a more secure workforce for today’s evolving economy.”

A freelance worker is any individual hired or retained as an independent contractor by a hiring party to provide services for compensation. The Law protects freelance workers against non-payment by:

  • Requiring contracts between freelance workers and hiring parties that are worth $800 or more to be in writing, including agreements that total $800 in any 120-day period.
  • Requiring hiring parties to pay freelance workers on or before the date in the contract, or if the contract doesn’t specify a date, within 30 days after the work is completed.
  • Protecting freelance workers against retaliation for asserting their rights under the Law.
  • Providing freelance workers the right to file a complaint with OLPS. Hiring parties must respond to the complaint in writing within 20 days. If a hiring party does not respond to a complaint within 20 days, the freelance worker receive a “rebuttable presumption” in their favor when they bring their complaint to court, which means the judge should presume the hiring party committed the violations.
  • Creating a Court Navigation Program within DCA, which offers freelance workers information about the law, the court process, sample court forms, court services, worker classification, and more.
  • Providing the right to sue in court to seek double the unpaid amount, damages for retaliation, damages for failing to enter into a written contract, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

During today’s Day of Action, DCA staff and volunteers spread the word about the Law at 11 transit hubs, including many near co-work spaces. The outreach event was followed by a launch event with the Freelancers Union. DCA also launched a 15-day social media campaign called#FacesofFreelancers to highlight the city’s many freelancers and the new rights available to them. Hiring parties and workers can visit nyc.gov/dca or call 311 and ask for “Freelance Workers” for more information about the Freelance Isn’t Free Act. Information for freelancers (Spanish) and hiring parties, as well as a model contractcomplaint formFAQs and court navigation information is available at nyc.gov/dca and will soon be available in additional languages.

“With on-third of the workforce freelancing, it’s time for us to build a new safety net that reflects the realities of how Americans are working,” said Sara Horowitz, Founder and Executive Director of Freelancers Union. “To achieve this, we must build new labor institutions and strategies for organizing workers and mobilizing for change. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act marks a turning point in developing real protections for the growing independent workforce.”

Through DCA, the de Blasio administration continues to lead the nation on advocacy around the importance of municipal workplace rights and protections. DCA’s OLPS enforces, implements, and works on the development of a new generation of minimum labor standards for a stronger city. It focuses on ensuring all workers can realize these rights, regardless of immigration status. OLPS is implementing and/or enforcing a number of municipal workplace laws, including the Paid Sick Leave Law, Commuter Benefits Law, the City Living and Prevailing Wage Laws, the Grocery Workers Retention Act and the new Paid Care Division.

“From graphic artists, to writers, to website developers -- freelance workers are an integral part of our society and our growing economy,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs. “As Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs, I am proud to have been part of the effort to secure rights for freelancers through our “Freelance Isn’t Free Act.” But we must continue fighting for pay equity, better working conditions, and rights for all workers-- both unionized and nonunionized workers-- throughout our city and beyond.”

"Starting today, New York City will be the first city in the nation to protect freelancers and independent contractors from getting stiffed," said Council Member Brad Lander. "This means new protections for NYC’s 1.3 million freelancers - for people like Mauricio Niebla, part of a group of 40 writers and editors cheated out of a total of $400,000 by a national publishing company. Like Just Raymona, a pattern-maker from the Bronx, who paid the people she owed out of her savings when she was stiffed, but couldn’t pay her own rent or phone bill. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act will make sure all workers can get paid for their work, on-time and in full. Thank you to the Freelancer’s Union for their leadership in passing this first-of-its-kind legislation and to DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas and OLPS Director Liz Vladeck for their commitment to ensuring that all workers have the supports and protections they deserve."

“This victory for thousands of freelancers and their families is proof of the vitality of the labor movement, which is expanding to address the challenges of a 21st century economy,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “Freelancers should never be forced to put their rent or utility bills on a credit card just because they haven’t been paid on time, or at all, for their hard work.  The implementation of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act ensures that even more workers have the right to a written contract that guarantees timely payment and freedom from retaliation from employers. I thank Commissioner Salas, Council Member Lander, and the Freelancers Union for helping us achieve this important step towards fairness and financial stability for freelancers in my Council District, and across the City.” 

“The Freelance Isn’t Free Act sets standards and aids enforcement to level the playing field for tens of thousands of independent contractors,” saidManhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Though employment relationships and the workplace may change, failing to pay freelancers for their work is just like wage theft -- and we need to make sure all workers have the information, the support, and the legal protections they need.”

"Getting paid for your work is a simple concept, but too often freelancers are at risk of late payment, or payments that never come at all," said State Senator Daniel Squadron. "As a long-time proponent of freelancer protections on the state level, I thank the City for implementing the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, along with Commissioner Salas and the Department of Consumer Affairs, Councilmember Lander, and my colleagues in government."

"As the structure of work is changing, it's important that policy keep up in order to protect workers,” said Michelle Miller from coworker.org. “The Freelance Isn't Free Act provides Freelancers with a powerful tool for ensuring that Freelancers are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve."

"The new legislation is a fundamental step toward the goal of protecting freelance workers of many different industries, and represents an important achievement in protecting the rights of all New Yorkers,” said Favio Ramirez-Caminatti, Executive Director of El Centro del Inmigrante.

"The creative industries - arts, entertainment, fashion and media - function as major drivers of our city’s economy, but often the workers who provide the backbone of these industries face tremendous hardships.  Many of these cultural workers are freelancers, both in their survival jobs and in their work in the arts and entertainment industries, and we know that the Freelance Isn’t Free Act will have an enormously positive impact on their ability to sustain themselves and to thrive in their artistic endeavors,” said Sue-Anne Morrow, NYC Arts and Entertainment Worker Resource Center Coordinator.

"The Model Alliance is pleased that models now have additional legal recourse for nonpayment of their wages. Lack of financial transparency and accountability are widespread problems in New York City's fashion industry, and these problems are complicated by the frequent classification of models as independent contractors and the multi-level structure of hiring in our business. Regardless of how a worker is classified, everyone should have legal rights and protections to ensure they are treated fairly. We are grateful to the City for working to protect freelancers and for providing a dedicated resource for workplace questions and complaints," said Sara Ziff, Founding Director of the Model Alliance.


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