Nice piece, Michael. To add a bit more from our experience on the NASW grievance committee: We were selective in taking cases and only chose cases in which, in our judgment, the writer was clearly in the right. A lot of the time simply having an adult-to-adult conversation and staking out the moral high ground was enough, as it was clear the writer should indeed be paid in full. But for some of the more recalcitrant and less professional publishers, and we met a few, the fact that we could potentially let the NASW membership know about egregious cases was indeed powerful. It was disappointing when we learned that we could no longer do that, and we knew at that point that we weren’t going to be able to intervene effectively on behalf of freelancers, especially in tough cases, which is why the committee went by the wayside.
Yeah, but try and collect once you’ve gotten a judgement from small claims court. I think the only way to get recalcitrant companies to pay is through shaming them and threatening to damage their reputation within the writing community, which is what they depend upon. My long experience is that there’s generally no malevolence. The vast majority of these companies run into financial problems and freelancers are the last to get paid, if at all. I think that’s what happened at Nautilus, at Ebony and at Newsweek.
I agree, Linda. That was our experience most of the time on the NASW grievance committee. I’d add, though, that paying freelancers last is a choice by the struggling companies. One reason for that is freelancers’ lack of individual and collective leverage compared with other creditors. This is why it is so critical for freelancers, and, I’d argue, the health of the entire enterprise that the playing field be leveled so freelancers are routinely treated fairly. That’s what we were able to help do for a few years at NASW, and I’m proud of that.
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