By Matthew Fischetti
Governor Hochul vetoed legislation concerning freelancer work last week.
The Freelance isn’t Free Act, sponsored by Brooklyn State Senator Andrew Gounardes, would have created a right to a written contract from a hiring party for contracts over $250, creating a process for the Department of Labor to investigate complaints and the ability for the Attorney General to investigate patterns of non-payment, among other changes.
“Much of the language in this new section 191-d in the Labor Law is drawn from existing language in Article 6 that provides wage theft protections for traditional employees, creating parity between the two different types of laborers,” according to the bill’s memo.
Citywide legislation on the issue was passed in 2017. Complaints are handled through the New York City Department of Consumer and Workplace Protections. More than $1.3 has been recovered in penalties or restitution from 2018 and 2019 complaints alone, according to the bill.
The bill argues that the enforcement mechanism at a citywide level isn’t strong enough as the New York City Department of Consumer and Workplace Protections, as they cannot compel hirers to pay, leaving freelance workers to take their cases to small claims court.
A 2019 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union, UpWork and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment found that over a third of New York City residents are freelance workers.
“It’s unfortunate that this holiday season will leave freelancers out in the cold, but that only strengthens my resolve to go back to Albany next year and keep fighting to protect these workers,” Senator Gounardes said in a statement.
According to a report from the Independent Economy Council, 59% of freelance workers are owed $50,000 or more for their work.
“With 39% of the entire U.S. workforce freelancing this year and a total of $1.35 trillion in annual earnings to the U.S. economy from freelance contributions, we are saddened by the Governor’s calculation that there is not enough room in our budget to adequately protect the growing independent workforce in the state,” Executive Director of the Freelancers Union Rafael Espinal said in a statement. “We thank the legislature for passing this significant legislation and we will be no doubt back in January to make sure we get this done next session.”
“The National Writers Union and the tens of thousands of freelance writers, authors and media workers in NYS are extremely disappointed in the Governor’s veto. Freelance Isn’t Free simply requires a written contract and payment within 30 days of invoicing, which should be the bare minimum in worker protection,” Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union, said in a statement. “To veto a package of bills over a lack of funding for the Department of Labor at the last minute is disturbing, particularly when Freelance Isn’t Free, like the other bills in the package, passed both houses in a legislative session that ended over six months ago. This is especially concerning given that Governor Hochul was elected in November with the support of unions and workers.”