Since 1981, the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981) has been taking on publishers and publications over late and non-payment to freelance writers. Over the years the union has recovered more than a million dollars owed to writers that wasn't otherwise being paid to them. This has often been the result of coordinated organizing campaigns targeting particularly bad publishers. That’s one reason a union of freelance writers is so important – it allows us to pool our resources as writers to take on battles that would be too large or expensive to fight individually.
Sometimes, however, when push comes to shove, winning back wages this involves taking publishers to court.
Individual writers rarely take publishers to court because the money owed to them is too small relative to the costs of hiring lawyers and fighting in court. That's one reason a union of freelance writers is so important – being able to pool our resources as writers so that our union can pay for these kinds of costs when some of us need to take our fight to court.Over the past two years, however, the NWU has seen the number of cases brought to them by writers exponentially increase. The media industry is in incredible flux, and struggling publications are offloading their financial issues onto their freelancers by refusing to pay them, or asking them to wait indefinitely for payment for work they have done. Already in the past year the NWU has won some important fights in court, including an $80,000 settlement against Ebony Magazine. But as more and more writers of these cases come forward, their legal fees are likely to grow larger than what the union can afford.
Not every case goes to court. More often than not they are settled before a single dollar is spent on lawyers. But in order to make sure a publisher will deal with the NWU in good faith, it is important for the publication to know the union means business - that the workers it will take their a case to trial if they have it has to. Having a sizeable legal fund that can withstand the costs of taking a case the distance will benefit all writers who bring these non-payment grievances before publications. This is the freelancer's version of a strike fund - a large stick that will encourage publishers to choose the carrot.
The National Writers United Service Organization, a charitable organization allied with the Union, has created the Freelance Writers’ Legal Defense Fund to support writers whose cases can’t be resolved by negotiation alone. With your charitable donation, NWUSO , we can build up a fund to pay writers’ legal fees that will only be used by the NWU for legal fees in the event that their non-payment grievances must go to court. Working together with our 501c3, the NWUSO, and the lawyers at Levy Ratner (who have already successfully won a number of these grievances for NWU members), we will use this fund to make sure that publishers across the media landscape are on notice - stiffing your freelancers on money you owe them could land you in court.