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Still Fighting for Freelancers: The Heat is On | President's Post by Laura Stigler

27 Dec 2023 12:09 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

This last November, I sent an e-blast to you all regarding the latest news in the fight against a US Department of Labor (USDOL) job-destroying ruling – the PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize) containing the ABC Test. Its aim is to classify Independent Contractors (ICs) as employees. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, find out here.) In that email, I mentioned that the ruling was poised to be enacted around Thanksgiving. That didn’t happen. While versions of it are currently making their way around various states (IL, MN, NJ, RI, NY, etc.) the ruling is still pending on the national level, with a possible launch in January. In the meantime, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has been taking meetings to hear both sides of the issue. 

Our business is none of their business.

Politicians and unelected officials should not be able to decide how we work and live. It is our constitutional right and responsibility to fight back:

1) Contact the White House and voice your opposition to the PRO Act/ABC Test. 2) Find out where your U.S. and State Congressional Representatives stand on this ruling. If they support IC’s, thank them. If they support the PRO Act/ABC Test, set them straight. And 3) get into the business of those unelected officials in the USDOL and on the National Labor Relations Board. Let them know in no uncertain terms where you stand. 

Make your voice heard. I have.

On November 28, I spoke for ten minutes on behalf of IWOC and myself in a teleconference hosted by the OIRA. There were nine in attendance, representing the OIRA, the USDOL, DOL’s and OIRA’s Offices of Management and Budget, and DOL’s Wage and Hour Division. While backed with stats and facts, my statement was intensely personal. It had to be if I wished to make any impact. If you’re curious as to what I presented, my statement is posted below.  You may even relate to some of it. Or at the very least, be informed and inspired enough to contact your representatives or write an op-ed, and make your own voice heard.

Will my voice – and that of the millions of Independent Contractors expressing their concerns – halt the enactment of this deleterious ruling? We can only hope. But to not fight and just accept what will be forced upon unacceptable. 

Stay tuned, 

Laura Stigler



Thank you for accepting my request for a meeting and hearing me out. My name is Laura Stigler. I’m serving my 8th term as president of Independent Writers of Chicago, speaking for myself and on behalf of our members. I’ve been a freelance writer for 34 years. Previous to that, I worked as a full-time employee for 14 years – the first 2 years in retail advertising, and the next 12 working my way up to Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson – which at the time, was the world’s largest advertising agency. For 10 of those years at J. Walter, it was glorious. The training and experience I’ve gained I wouldn’t have traded for the world. Everything I’ve learned there I continue to put to use in my freelance writing career. 

But in the last two years working at the agency, there was a regime change, turning my days into nightmares where I experienced the kind of backstabbing that is often depicted in movies and novels about the advertising industry. I went into a deep depression, where I’d go home every night, jump in the tub and read fairy tales to escape, as I didn’t do drugs. After my boss sabotaged my work only to throw me under the bus in front of a client, I was fired. Which ended up being a blessing. I vowed never, ever to work for a jerk again. So I decided to go freelance. This was in 1989.

Nonstop since then, I’ve been happily and successfully making my living as a freelance writer, setting my own rates, hours and picking and choosing my clients. At J. Walter, I wrote TV and radio commercials and print ads. But being a freelancer allowed me to expand my own skill sets exponentially, enabling me to offer an extensive variety of writing services that answer the different needs of a wide variety of clients. Need a website written? A blog? A video script? A press release? I do all that – and more. In doing so, I’ve developed solid, trusting relationships with my clients, in every case giving my all in providing my best work, and rewarded with being paid my hourly rate willingly, eagerly, and promptly. In the 30+ years of freelancing, not once have I been stiffed. And for the very few times payment was late, I handled it, appealing to those clients’ better angels.

To those who believe they’re doing Independent Contractors (ICs) a favor by forcing them into being an employee, thinking that is more secure: My experience should tell you, that is simply not the case. Sure, as an employee you’re secure – that is, until you’re laid off due to budgetary concerns. Or you’re fired by a nefarious boss. Or you’re canceled because of a misspoken word. Or the company simply goes out of business. Oh, by the way, the iconic J. Walter Thompson – the world’s largest ad agency? They no longer exist. 

According to Fiver“Over 80% of independent workers strongly or somewhat agree that having multiple sources of income provides a greater level of security than relying on a single employer, and 89% agree having control over their work life allows them to adjust to changing economic conditions rather than being tied to the decisions of an employer.” 

Keep in mind, too, that when you lose employment, you lose your health insurance. Poof! Gone. How secure is that?  As a freelancer, even if you lose a client, you still get to keep your health insurance – as long as you keep up your premium payments. 

That’s the thing about being independent. It teaches you responsibility. To find your own health insurance. To be proactive in paying your quarterly taxes. No, you don’t get paid vacation or paid family leave, but what you do get in return are three benefits money cannot buy: Freedom, variety and flexibility. 

An example of flexibility:  I was able to earn a living while helping my dad take care of my mother during the four years she battled cancer. 20 years later, I was able to be the caregiver for my dad for 5 years until he passed away at the age of 99, all the while, taking on writing assignments that I’d work on in between the hours of helping my dad. As an employee, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.

Regarding freedom and variety, that is something you do not get as an employee. Oftentimes – and I speak from experience, you can end up working on the same thing, day after day, year after year. But as a freelancer, I get to be creatively stimulated – and happier – by freely working for a variety of clients on a variety of assignments. So if I were to have to work for one of my clients as an employee – assuming they’d even want to hire me as such, does that mean I’d have to give up all my other clients, and be forced into working in a way that I’ve come to find soul-crushing? Why? Just because you say so? Or because of some ill-thought-out arbitrary rule?

I’m referring here to Factor 5 of the USDOL’s rule, the one that emulates prong B of California’s AB5 ruling that destroyed thousands of jobs and small businesses. The personal stories are heartbreaking. That factor states you will be classified as an Independent Contractor if “The service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer.” Well my business would be wiped out, because I’m in advertising and the majority of my clients have been ad agencies. 

You say, “But they can hire you as an employee!” Fat chance. No ad agency will hire anyone my age for full-time employment. Ageism is rampant in that industry. Once you turn 50, you’re out. Happened to my husband and to my dad. But the way to beat that – is to be a freelancer. I get hired – and respected because of my expertise, my experience, and the fact that as an outsider, they count on me for bringing in fresh ideas and an out-of-the-box perspective. In total, I’ve garnered millions of dollars’ worth of business for my clients. My reward? They continue to hire me and pay me more than they would were I their employee.

Corroborating my experience are these facts from Upwork:

·       85% of hiring managers say that working with independent talent allows them to access specialized skills or expertise. 

·   79% agree that working with independent talent has enabled their business to be more innovative. 

·   Nearly 80% of hiring managers who engage skilled freelancers say they are confident in their ability to find the talent they need, compared to just 63% of those who don’t engage freelancers.

Let’s also take into consideration the fact that often, smaller businesses will hire IC’s because they simply cannot afford to take them on full time – they can’t afford the vacation pay, health insurance and countless other expenses that go with hiring full-timers. So what will happen is they’ll drop the IC’s altogether. The IC’s will lose their clients. And their clients will lose someone they’ve depended on to help their business succeed. Which in turn, has caused many small businesses to go under as well, because they’ve basically lost their work force. 

According to MBO Partners (a job sourcing platform for ICs) and Freelancers Against AB5, there are 72.1 million Independent Contractors in the U.S. representing over 600 professions ranging from accounting, graphic artists and language translation to hair styling, physical therapy and writers of all stripes. That’s almost 45% of the nation’s workforce. The destruction these rules will do to the nation’s economy will be catastrophic. 

But what it all basically comes down to is this: Millions of IC’s in professions across the board have been voicing their opposition to this rule. If it provided such great “protection” for freelancers, why are only unions in support of it? As it is, the NLRB is being sued for overstepping its regulatory capabilities (with franchisees) and this USDOL regulation will also be sued in court. The millions who have chosen to be Independent Contractors are living exactly how we want to live – with freedom and flexibility. As Americans, that is completely within our right to enjoy. Any ruling that impinges upon that right is a brazen infringement on our God-given unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

And personally, I don’t want my tax dollars going towards rules that will ruin my business and that of millions of others, including the businesses of the writers my organization represents. 

In sum, this so-called Classification of Employees and Independent Contractors Under the Fair Labor Standards Act is patently unfair. And quite frankly, un-American.

Thank you.

Submitted by Laura Stigler


9 people were present in the meeting: Stephen Davis, Robert Waterman -- DOL/Wage and Hour Division; Andrea Reyes, Laurel Havas --  Office of Management and Budget / OIRA; Claire Monteiro- OMB Labor Branch; Amy Hunter, Lyda Harris, Rina Majmudar DOL; Dean Romhilt – DOL/SOL  (represents Secretary of Labor)

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