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. FIFA was introduced by Senator Andrew Gounardes of the 22nd State Senate District and Assemblymember Harry Bronson of Assembly District 138, with an additional twelve co-sponsors in the Senate and fifteen in the Assembly. 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.”

Among the protections that the New York State law would provide are mandatory written contracts for work valued at $250 or more; payment within 30 days of completion of the work, unless otherwise agreed in the contract; and the ability to collect double the amount owed, as well as attorney fees, for violations. The law will be enforced by the New York State Department of Labor, and repeat violators could face penalties of up to $25,000.

“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.”

“For years, graphic artists have been putting up with late payment, no payment, and harassment when they attempt to collect the fees owed to them. This continues to occur even as designers and illustrators are coming out of the pandemic economy with fewer or lower-paying jobs. The result is a cascade effect of unpaid bills and deepening debt,” said Rebecca Blake, Advocacy Liaison for the Graphic Artists Guild. “Businesses should not expect freelancers to help them meet their financial burdens by accepting late payment or reduced payment on their invoices. FIFA would correct this fundamental unfairness.”