New York City

‘World’s Longest Invoice’ draws attention to plight of unpaid freelancers

March 28, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On Monday, the Freelancers Union launched “The World's Longest Invoice” -- an online counter tracking the amount of money freelancers have been stiffed by their clients. By noon, the tally was up to $302,580.

High percentage stiffed by clients in the ‘gig economy’

Illustrator and designer Jay Quercia, who recently left Brooklyn for Portland, Oregon, was stiffed $6,500 by a deadbeat client. German artist Wolfram Kampffmeyer, who makes 3-D paper sculptures, is owed $250. Documentary filmmaker and photojournalist Laura Fravel was never paid $27,000 for videos she produced. Chris DeLoach, an illustrator in Alabama, is owed $110.

These figures and more can be found on “The World’s Longest Invoice,” published online on Monday by the Freelancers Union, a Brooklyn-based group of more than 300,000 independent workers. Roughly 130,000 of these workers live in New York City.

Hours after the invoice was launched, artists’ unpaid bills had added up to $302,580.16. [Update: By 4 p.m. on Monday, the amount had risen to $388,317.] The Freelancers Union expects the invoice to grow in length as freelancers become aware of its existence.

More than 70 percent of freelancers have experienced either late payments or nonpayment, the Freelancers Union says. And the amounts are not trivial: independent workers are stiffed an average of almost $6,000 per year.

Traditional employees can turn to the Department of Labor when they’re stiffed, but “new economy” workers only have two options: sue in small claims court or walk away, Freelancers Union says.

The union is trying to bring attention to their plight, and to support the ‘Freelance Isn’t Free’ Act, NYC Council legislation aimed at protecting freelancers from deadbeat companies.

Under the proposed bill, any company that hires a freelance worker would have to sign a simple written contract, describing the work to be completed, the rate and method of payment, and date when payment is due.

Those companies that stiff freelancers would face consequences including double damages, attorney’s fees and civil penalties from judges and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.  

The bill’s original sponsor, Councilmember Brad Lander, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday, “Everyone who works deserves to get paid, on-time and in-full. Unfortunately, as the ‘World’s Longest Invoice’ is making clear, far too many freelancers in NYC have been cheated out of payments they are owed.”

Lander said he was proud of the “first-of-its-kind legislation,” which would provide independent workers with “real protections against payment theft.”

The act has gained support from a majority of the Council, with 28 of 51 members currently signed on, plus NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, according to the Freelancers Union. The act currently sits with the City Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs.

The bill had a positive public hearing last month, with no one testifying against it.