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Wage And Hour

New York Passes First-of-Kind Bill to Protect Freelancers

The bill, which the Freelancers’ Union helped draft, was introduced to the City Council a year ago.
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Freelancers in New York got a boost with the Freelance Isn’t Free Act.

As the U.S. gig economy continues to grow, New York City has made one of the first efforts nationwide to protect freelance workers.

The City Council recently passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which establishes and enhances protections for freelancers, independent contractors and other workers not covered by regular labor laws.

Members of the national Freelancers’ Union helped draft the bill, which was introduced to the council last December by Democrat Brad Lander.

“It was great to see this legislation pass first here and set a strong precedent for protecting all work — especially as it was passed unanimously by NYC Council,” said Caitlin Pierce, director of member engagement for the Freelancers’ Union, in an email.

Intended to tackle unpaid wages and late payment, the new law would require employers to set proper payment schedules and procedures in the form of a written contract for any work that exceeds $800 over a 120-day period.

Although an earlier version proposed criminal penalties for employers with repeated violations, the amended bill still includes fines of up to $25,000.

Protections for non-traditional workers have become increasingly important as services such as Uber and Postmates establish a “gig” economy of individuals looking to make supplemental income on a flexible schedule.

“New York City is a hub for freelance labor, with 38 percent of the workforce freelancing and freelancers in the NYC metro area earning estimated $230 billion annually in freelance income,” Pierce said.

Nationally, almost 16 percent of workers were engaged in “alternative work arrangements” in late 2015, up from 10 percent in 2005, according to a study from Harvard University.

The precedent set by the bill may also open the door to future legislation across the country.

“We hope to bring the legislation to other cities and states,” Pierce said, “and [we] have started talking to allies and advocates who are interested in getting started in their region.”

Nidhi Madhavan is a Workforce editorial intern. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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