New York City Council Passes Freelance Rights Bill

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By Michael Rose

Oct. 27 — The New York City Council passed a bill Oct. 27 intended to provide freelance workers with wage protections.

The bill (Intro. 1017-2015) was strongly supported by the Freelancers Union, a group that advocates on behalf of freelancers, independent contractors and other “gig economy” workers.

In an announcement of the measure’s passage, the group called the bill the “first of its kind” in the nation. It urged other cities to use it as a model of how to protect freelance workers from “wage theft.”

Council Gave Unanimous Support

“This is the first time that there has been any kind of labor or employment law that is protecting independent contractors,” Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of the Freelancers Union, told Bloomberg BNA.

Horowitz said the bill passed the council unanimously, and she expects Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) to sign it in the next few weeks. It was introduced by Councilman Brad Lander (D) and co-sponsored by more than half the council’s members, the Freelancers Union said.

The measure is meant to prohibit employers from delaying or withholding payment from freelancers. Among other things, it would require freelancers and “hiring parties” to execute written contracts for work valued at $800 or more. The contracts would be required to specify the date by which payment is due to the freelancer.

Double Damages

In addition, workers would be entitled to double damages if an employer was found not to have paid them on time. If a contract didn’t specify a payment date, payment would automatically be due 30 days after completion of the freelancer’s work, according to the text of the measure.

The need for the legislation was made clear when “people would frequently go to small claims court, but they didn’t have contracts, so their cases would fall apart,” Horowitz said.

The measure faced little opposition, Horowitz said. According to written testimony presented at a City Council hearing in February, the only group to express any reservations about the legislation was the New York Staffing Association.

Association representatives who signed on to its testimony didn’t respond to a request for comment Oct. 27.

Few parties are opposed to the measure “because it’s such an elemental fairness issue,” Horowitz said. “If people do the work, they should get paid.”

The legislation is supported by various labor unions and worker advocacy groups. Business representatives also supported the measure, including the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, as well as individual businesses that support independent workers such as WeWork, the chain of co-working spaces.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Rose in Washington at mrose@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the bill is at http://src.bna.com/jHR.

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