For freelancers, getting paid is sometimes the hardest part of the job: The majority of freelance workers have experienced late payments or, worse, have had clients that never paid them at all. A new website from Freelancers Union, the World's Longest Invoice, is an attempt to add up exactly how much freelancers are owed.
"We know this is one of the biggest issues affecting the freelance workforce," says Caitlin Pearce, director of member engagement at Freelancers Union. In a 2015 survey, the organization found that 71% of freelancers had dealt with nonpayment or late payment (an average of 98 days late). "On average, they were getting stiffed about $6,000, which for our members is about 13% of their income."
It affects freelancers in every field—the mega-invoice includes creative directors, web developers, interpreters, care workers, and journalists, too. In total, it's a problem affecting a huge chunk of the American workforce; a third of workers, or 54 million people, now freelance instead of getting regular paychecks.
It can be fairly easy for clients to get away with not paying. "I think there's just an underlying power imbalance," says Pierce. "There's no legislation that is in place with labor protections for freelance work. Ultimately it's really incumbent on the freelance worker to take a client to court at their own expense."
In New York City, where the organization is based, Freelancers Union worked with city council members to create a new bill to offer more protection. If it becomes law, they're hoping that it could be replicated elsewhere.
The law would mandate that all companies in New York City use a contract with freelancers including basic payment terms. If the company violates it and the freelancer takes them to court, the law would award damages in attorney fees. "It would make it a lot more financially viable for freelancers to go to small claims court," Pierce says. Companies that repeatedly stiff freelancers would potentially be subject to misdemeanor charges. Freelancers could also file complaints with the city's Department of Consumer Affairs.
Freelancers Union is hoping that the new invoice will help people realize that it's not an isolated problem. Even in New York City alone, an economist has estimated that freelancers are owed up to $4.7 billion.