*Update: The New York City Council Passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act on October 27th, 2016.
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Currently, there are over 50 million freelancers in the US spanning across different industries and professions. Of that number is a daunting statistic: 7 in 10 freelancers say they’ve experienced trouble getting paid.
Late or unpaid freelancers are seemingly common not only in the US, but worldwide. So as a response, the Freelancers Union is setting the stage and taking the issue to office. They’ve created the Freelance Isn’t Free Act—a petition to pass a new legislation in New York City. Upon approval, the bill will protect New York-based freelancers from the unruly clients who fail to pay up.
We spoke with Caitlin Pearce, director of Member Engagement at the Freelancers Union—the creators behind the Freelance Isn’t Free Act—to learn more about the campaign and how to ensure your voice is heard.
Understanding the Freelance Isn’t Free Act
“The campaign is many years in the making,” says Caitlin. “We initially had some state-level legislation, but we kicked off this campaign last September. It was a combination of a New York City legislative push, but we really wanted to start building awareness about this issue on a much larger scale.”
She breaks down the overall purpose of the campaign in 2 parts:
- To bring solidified work agreements between freelancers and companies to protect both parties
- To give freelancers stronger support in the event that a contract is broken
“We realize that 7 in 10 freelancers have difficulty getting paid. Whether it’s non-payment or late payment, we find that the results tend to be the same. Freelancers, who are already dealing with issues around having unstable income, really have it bad when a check doesn’t come in the mail.”
One of the things Caitlin found most surprising was the average dollar amount lost from unreliable companies. “Freelancers lose $6,000 annually in non-payment. This shows the impact it can have on someone’s finances.”
But Who’s Not Getting Paid?
The response can’t be narrowed down to one type of freelancer. According to Caitlin, the non-payment issue is common amongst freelancers across varying industries and professions. The ones affected most are illustrated in the graph below.
Oftentimes, when you hear the word “freelancer,” you think of visual creatives—the writers, filmmakers and photographers. But according to the research conducted by the Freelancers Union, 82% of freelancers in construction and building say they’ve experienced difficulty getting paid at some point in their careers (compared to 72% of photographers and visual artists)—still an eye-opening statistic, to say the least.
“One of the things we’ve been doing with the campaign is really showing the types of freelancers who work with different types of companies in different industries, then showcasing the issues they have when they don’t have the protection they need.”
So Change Needs to Happen… Now
“As the freelance workforce continues to grow, policymakers are starting to recognize they have to get up to speed on who this workforce is and what some of the top issues are,” says Caitlin.
If the Freelance Isn’t Free Act Passes:
- Companies are responsible for providing contracts for work over $200
“Through mandating the contract, you’re really saying you have to have a clear work agreement and payment terms.”
- Companies must pay freelancers no later than one month after the paid-on date
“If something goes wrong and the freelancer doesn’t get paid within 30 days of the agreed upon date, the freelancer has better remedies.”
- Freelancers are backed up by a stronger support system
“Now they can go to the department of Consumer Affairs in New York City and that department will be responsible for helping them with their grievances. Freelancers can also go to small claims court. Under the new legislation, they can potentially be awarded attorney fees, damages and criminal penalties as well.”
Spread the Word, Sign the Petition
“The nice thing about the legislation is it’s just common sense. If you work, you deserve to get paid,” says Caitlin, adding that this is precisely what’s bringing freelancers and stakeholders together on the bill. “That’s been really galvanizing for our community—to be able to really talk about why you need a contract, why you need to figure out how to protect yourself and why it’s really critical to set standards for when things go wrong.”
Thousands of people have shown their support for the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which is poised to pass in the coming months. To get involved, Caitlin encourages supporters to sign the petition and spread the word—because freelance isn’t free.
About the author: Megan Santos is a Content Editor at FreshBooks. Before joining the team, Megan was the Editor of a national trade publication and was also a published writer for the National Post, Notable.ca, and Zoocasa.com. In her free time, you can find Megan in her empty, new home or Pinteresting “Home decor inspiration.” Follow her on Twitter@meganssantos.