• Advocacy, Director Dispatches

New Legislation Introduced to Expand Freelance Protections to California State

We have some exciting news! Just last week California State Senator Scott Wiener introduced Senate Bill 988 (SB 988) or as we like to call it, the Freelance isn’t Free Act. As in other parts of the country, where we have been successful in implementing similar laws, it aims to ensure fundamental protections for freelance workers, enforced by the State Labor Commissioner and the Attorney General. These protections include the right to a contract, prompt payment within 30 days of completing work, and the right to double damages for non-payment.

The focus on freelance worker rights has intensified nationwide since we focused our advocacy on expanding the Freelance Isn’t Free Act nationally, prompting recent legislative actions in New York, Illinois, Seattle, Minneapolis and the City of Los Angeles...

"Every individual deserves fair compensation for their labor and recourse if mistreated.” Senator Wiener said, “SB 988 addresses the plight of many freelance workers who face challenges such as working without contracts or enduring delayed payments."

“Independent workers across all industries are drawn to California in pursuit of their dreams. Unfortunately, cases of non-payment by clients make these dreams harder to pursue,” said Rafael Espinal, Executive Director of the Freelancers Union. “I commend the sponsor of this bill, Senator Weiner, for his support and dedication to this crucial workforce. This legislation will establish payment protections as the standard for all workers, providing a major victory for the millions of freelancers who play a significant role in boosting the state’s economy.”

Freelancing represents a rapidly expanding and vital segment of the economy. In 2022, 60 million Americans freelanced, constituting 39% of the workforce and contributing $1.35 trillion to the national economy.

However, most freelancers lack basic labor protections, particularly timely payment. According to studies conducted by Freelancers Union, 71% of freelancers experienced late or non-payment, with 59% living paycheck to paycheck. Furthermore, the majority operate without written contracts, as only 25% consistently have them.

In 2017, New York City pioneered the 'Freelance Isn't Free Act,' allowing freelancers to recover unpaid wages. Since then, freelancers in New York have reclaimed over $2.5 million in unpaid invoices, yet this amount represents only a fraction of what is owed.

Similar legislation was passed in the City of Los Angeles in February 2023, but it has limitations, notably covering only work performed within county limits. Given the rise of remote freelancing, especially due to the pandemic, this loophole disincentivizes hiring freelance workers residing and working in Los Angeles.

Illinois (2023) and New York (2023) have enacted versions of SB 988, mirroring its core protections. The Freelance Worker Protection Act provides basic protections, including:

  • Mandatory contracts for freelancers performing over $250 of work for a hiring entity, specifying work scope, pay rate, and payment method.
  • 30-day payment terms, unless otherwise specified in the contract.
  • Protection against coercion for faster payment.
  • Anti-retaliation measures against freelancers pursuing payment.
  • Double damages for non-payment, covering costs and attorney's fees.

“The National Writers Union and the coalition of freelance writers, media workers, photographers, graphic artists, authors and others, want to thank Senator Wiener, and the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council for advancing the needed protections that freelance workers deserve,” said Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union. “We are one-third of the workforce, yet over 70% of freelancers experience late payment or no payment at all. After having Freelance Isn’t Free bills signed into law in New York State, Illinois and Los Angeles in 2023, we are taking our campaign statewide, to Sacramento. Freelance Isn’t Free works! Under the NYC law, freelancers have recovered more than $2.5 million in unpaid invoices, and currently 41 freelancers are collecting $275,000, double damages, from a publisher with a pattern and practice of non-payment and late payment. This is a solid floor from which to build out the full set of labor protections that freelance workers deserve, statewide and nationally.”

SB 988 aims to safeguard freelance workers' rights and address the prevalent issue of non-payment, reflecting a growing recognition of the importance of protecting this vital workforce sector. We hope to successfully expand these protections to California state, and eventually, nationwide.

Want to help pass this legislation? Click to fill out a form to send an email to your Senator and voice your support for Freelance Isn't Free.

Rafael Espinal Rafael Espinal is the president and executive director of Freelancers Union.