I am proud to announce that the Model Alliance is collaborating with the Freelancers' Union to pass The Freelancer Payment Protection Act, a proposed law which would protect models and other freelancers in New York from deadbeat clients. It would also protect models from wage theft by their agencies. It's already passed the New York State Assembly; but we need your support to insure it passes in the Senate.
To show its support for this initiative, the Model Alliance is today publishing the first in a series of accounts of non-paying clients from models and other freelancers in the fashion industry. The first story in this series is by top model Caitriona Balfe, who has waited as long as a year to receive payment for her work, and who — staggeringly — lost over $300,000 in unpaid earnings when her agency declared bankruptcy.
Sharing these stories underlines the fact that the lack of financial transparency and accountability is a significant problem in our business. And as a model, I know firsthand that simply getting paid can be a major issue. Early in my career, I shot multiple days of catalogue for Olive and Bettes, a clothing retailer in Manhattan. When months went by and I had not received a paycheck, I followed up with my agency's accountant, who informed me that the client was unable to pay.
When a client doesn’t pay, the model takes the loss, not the agency. And as an independent contractor, I was dismayed to learn that I was not protected by state or federal labor laws. While employees’ unpaid wage complaints are handled by the Department of Labor at no cost, freelancers lack the Department of Labor’s support and are left with few options for recovering their money.
I could have hired an attorney to pursue these unpaid wages or taken the client to small claims court, but the amount of time and money required meant that these methods of recourse probably would not ultimately have been cost-effective. And so I found myself writing off my unpaid work as a loss.
Models are not alone in this fight. If you’re a freelancer working in fashion chances are you’ve worked for a client who never paid you the money you were owed. And when you followed up, you probably found that you had very few ways to collect. I know from talking to my stylist, makeup artist, photographer, and hairdresser friends that it happens to them, too. In fact, almost 80% of independent workers will be stiffed by clients in their careers – but unlike employees, freelancers have few legal protections.
You now have the chance to change that. The proposed law would allow freelancers to file complaints against deadbeat clients with the New York State Department of Labor. If the complaint is upheld after an investigation, the client can be ordered to pay 100% of the money owed to the freelancer, plus attorney's fees and interest. But we need your help to make this bill a reality.
We’ve only got until June to pass the Freelancer Payment Protection Act, so we need your support. We need 5,000 people to sign on to the campaign to push it across the finish line. This is a critical opportunity for you to make a difference for models, for freelancers in fashion, and for all workers.
Add your name to the fight today and email Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to let him know you support fair treatment for independent workers. Help us make New York the first state to protect freelancers from unpaid wages – and serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country.