There’s been lots of cracking down on employers who misclassify employees as ‘independent contractors.’ An independent contractor, legally speaking, is a worker who can meet the following: you 1) work without regular direction; 2) are free to provide similar services to other clients; 3) work on a temporary basis; 4) are involved in an independent business, profession or occupation. An independent contractor must pay their own contributions to Social Security and other governmental taxes and programs AND pay the employer’s portion of those contributions as well. Sometimes employers try to call a worker ‘independent’ for those very reason.
But there are many people who provide services or skills who are genuinely independent contractors. And the Department of Labor offers very little, if any, protection for those workers. If a client does not pay you (and this happens too many times) or withholds your check for many months, the DOL is not going to help you: you must resort to Small Claims Court.
There are a couple of organizations I’ve learned about recently that can actually help freelance artists, writers and other traditionally independent contractor workers. The first is the National Writers Union. The NWU says ‘the Union offers its members – including grievance assistance, contract advice, a job hotline, health and professional liability insurance, and much more – and actively contribute to a growing movement of professional freelancers who have banded together to assert their collective power.’ There is a sizable population of writers, photographers, artists and other affiliated professions that can be greatly helped by the NWU. Take a moment to check them out here.
Another, more nontraditional, union, the Freelancers Union, offers a different kind of assistance. Freelancers has group rates for insurance plans, for instance, something that many freelancers cannot access on their own. They also have online forums where freelancers share support for each other and discuss topics of interest to freelancers. Tomorrow and next week, the Freelancers Union is offering a workshop entitled Unpaid Wages Organizing Event. The topic covered — close to every freelancer’s heart — is how to collect money owed to you. 77% of all freelancers report that they have been cheated out of payment by at least one client.
Pass the word about these valuable organizations.