Senator Wiener Introduces Bill to Expand Freelance Worker Protections
SACRAMENTO – Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced Senate Bill 988 (SB 988), the Freelance Worker Protection Act. SB 988 provides basic protections — enforced by the State Labor Commissioner and the Attorney General — for freelance workers, including the right to a contract, the right to be paid within 30 days of the conclusion of the work, and the right to damages for non-payment, set at double the amount of wages withheld.
Freelance worker rights have become an increasing focus for lawmakers across the country since the onset of COVID-19, with New York, Illinois, and Los Angeles County passing recent legislation to expand protections.
“Everyone deserves to be compensated fairly for their work and to recourse if they’re mistreated,” said Senator Wiener. “Many freelance workers are getting ripped off — working without a contract or not being paid in a remotely timely way — and they’re struggling to get by as a result. SB 988 remedies this gap in our worker protections.”
“There is no denying the rapid growth of freelancing across all industries, yet most freelancers find themselves without basic worker protections,” says Chris Griswold, President of Teamsters Joint Council 42 “The Freelance Workers Protection Act not only establishes a new standard for safeguarding freelancers, but it also closes loopholes to combat pervasive wage theft. SB 988 sends a clear message to greedy employers that freelance workers deserve the same dignity and fair wages as everyone else.”
Freelancing is a rapidly growing and crucial sector of the economy. In 2022, 60 million Americans freelanced, making up 39% of the total workforce and contributing $1.35 trillion to the national economy.
Most freelancers lack basic worker protections, most notably, the right to be paid for their work on time. According to the Freelancers Union, 71% of workers experienced late or non-payment. 59% report living paycheck to paycheck. Most do not have written contracts, as only 25% reported that they consistently have written contracts.
In 2017, New York City passed the first ‘Freelance Isn’t Free Act’ in the U.S., creating a pathway for freelancers to recoup wages due to non-payment. Since then, freelance workers in New York have recovered over $2.5 million in unpaid invoices. This impressive total is just a fraction of the total amount owed to freelance workers.
In February 2023, similar legislation was passed in Los Angeles County. However, one of the limits is that the ordinance only covers freelance work performed within county limits. Most freelance workers are now remote, especially since the pandemic. This loophole incentivizes hiring entities not to hire freelance workers who live and work in Los Angeles.
Similar versions of SB 988 have been enacted in both Illinois (2023) and New York (2023).
The Freelance Worker Protection Act provides basic protections, including:
- Mandatory contracts: Any freelancer performing over $250 of work for a hiring entity over a four month period is entitled to a contract outlining the scope of the work expected, the rate of pay, and the method of payment.
- 30-day payment terms: Clients must pay their freelancers within 30 days of completion of work unless otherwise specified in the contract.
- Payment agreement protections: Clients cannot require that freelancers accept less than the contract stipulates in exchange for faster payment.
- Anti-retaliation: Clients cannot retaliate against freelancers for pursuing payment.
- Double Damages: Freelancers who are the victim of non-payment are entitled to damages equal to double the payment originally specified in their contract, plus 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.”