By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh
On Thursday September 12th, a NY City Council bill was passed which would extend anti-discrimination laws to protect freelancers, independent contractors and interns. As per the NY Daily News, the introduced bill, known as Intro 136, will add these interim workers to protection coverage under the City Human Rights Law. They would gain the right to fight harassment or discrimination, based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and immigration status.
Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), who is one of the bill’s sponsor, said the independent contractors and freelancers who are now an essential portion of workers, have been denied these vital protections for too long. The legislation has been on Lander’s agenda since January 2018, and was voted on and passed on Thursday. “Corporations have shifted to rely more and more on independent contractors and freelancers,” said Lander. “But these workers have been cut out of fundamental protections like the right to be free from harassment and discrimination in their work. Together with workers, and in partnership with Freelancers Union, we are clawing back the rights and expanding protections that all workers deserve,” continued Lander, in a statement. “Closing the loophole that left independent contractors without sufficient recourse for discrimination or harassment builds on the Council’s ambitious work to win protections for gig-economy workers.”
According to the Freelancers Union, three quarters of incidents of harassment and discrimination against freelancers go unreported. “Freelancers represent an incredibly diverse group of workers from across all boroughs and backgrounds. Unfortunately, too many must go to work feeling unsafe and have no place where they can safely report violations,” said Caitlin Pearce, head of Freelancers Union, in a statement. As per the Freelancers Union, which was established in 1995, more than one third of Americans freelanced last year, and in the past five years the independent workforce grew by 7%. Last year, there were approximately 56.7 million people who worked as freelancers in the United States, logging more than 1 billion hours of work weekly, and contributing roughly $1 trillion annually to the U.S. economy.
In recent years, the City Council has also passed other measures with the goal of helping build rights for freelancers. Among them was the 2017 Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which works to thwart businesses from ripping off freelancers. The landmark NYC bill was the first ever passed in the entire country to protect freelancers from delayed payments and lower wages. In New York City alone, roughly 38% of the entire workforce are freelancers or independent contractors, as per the Freelance Union’s estimate in 2016.