On Labor Day and Freelancing
It’s Labor Day! It’s time for barbecues with family and friends and mourning the end of summer. Beneath the Labor Day hoopla, it’s a very important holiday for the country. The holiday, which became a federal holiday in 1894, celebrates the country’s labor movement and the achievement of American workers.
We now have a 40-hour work week, a 5-day work week, and an end of child labor. Illinois, in particular, was a key battleground for the American Labor Movement. Now, as I look at the state of freelancing in 2017, I wonder if the labor movement is overdue for a resurgence, not just for staffers but for freelancers, too.
There are some bright spots. The Freelancers Union successfully executed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act in New York, a law that provides much-needed protection for independent contractors. And HuffPost, Jacobin, and DNAinfo New York have unionized, signaling a shift for digital publications.
But on the contrary, there’s also been some union busting activity in newsrooms. And freelancers… Freelancers frankly need more support than they’re getting. Independent journalists are getting paid late, being underpaid, or not being paid at all. According to the 2016 State of Freelancing report from Contently, 22 percent of freelancers have had a problem with late payment and full-time freelancers are be being under-compensated relative to their education level.
I’ve personally been paid late or in pieces by publications. I’ve also had clients stiff me for less money than it was worth to get a lawyer, even when I had a contract. Only 8 percent of freelancers earn more than $100,000, the Contently study also found. So some freelancers are making a great living at freelancing, but I’d be willing to bet many of them aren’t freelance reporters. I say that because a quick scan of Who Pays Writers or Contently’s rate database will show you how difficult it can be to find a publication that pays $1 to $2 per word. Increasingly, websites of print publications as well as digital outlets paying a few hundred dollars per article.
I’m not totally sure how we can make the environment better for independent journalists. But I’m working to do so through this platform as well as volunteering. In addition to blogging about my experience as a freelance journalist, I’m also working with The Chicago News Guild in order to revive the Working Journalists group, a unit of the Guild which serves independent media professionals (photographers, writers, videographers, etc.) (We recently held a panel on Successful Freelancer Strategies. Check it out here!)
I’m not headed home to Michigan this Labor Day. Instead, I’ll be catching up some much-needed relaxation time. But in between reading magazines and taking naps, I’ll also be thinking about ways that I can help other freelancers make a good living doing what they love.
What does Labor Day mean to you? Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Yes, your email will actually make it to me.)