The New York bill would give fashion models more protection at work

New York models and influencers would gain greater protection from exploitation by management companies and agencies under a state bill that aims to shake up an industry that employs 230,000 workers.

Expected to be introduced by State Senator Brad Hoylman on Friday, the Fashion Workers Act would first require model management companies or agencies, which typically act as intermediaries between clients and models, to register with the state and disclose their property. Unregistered agencies would no longer be able to operate in New York. It would also codify basic protections for workers, such as good faith representation and more reliable payment plans.

Proponents of the bill say a loophole in current state law classifies most bookings as ancillary, resulting in a lack of transparency on contracts and rates; foreclosed salaries for housing, photography and other expenses; and payments that can take months and even years to materialize.

“We want to make sure that New York continues to be the beating heart of fashion for the American apparel industry, but that it does so in a way that protects its employees,” said Hoylman, who represents a slice of Manhattan that includes the Garment District.

The proposal comes at a time when other sectors are under pressure from labor advocates to recognize workers as employees who are entitled to protections and benefits. A California judge last August rejected industry-backed Proposition 22, which would have formally classified Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors, and the Biden administration in February indicated it would take a closer look. incorrect job classifications in the warehouse sector. Teamster union president James Hoffa said he expected the administration to look into the misclassification of workers in US ports.

The fashion industry is a $ 2.5 trillion global behemoth, according to a 2018 estimate by consultancy group McKinsey & Co. Yet for all the glamor associated with the field, few models will see even a fraction of that money in the field. their life. The average annual pay for a model in the United States was just under $ 32,000 in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s less than the cost of a few lighting racks in a single New York Fashion Week show. Some models are lucky if they see their money in a timely fashion, or at all.

Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance Models Advocacy Group, said some of the most common complaints filed with the group’s service center are late or non-payment of money earned and unexplained deductions taken from models’ salaries.

“The agencies insist that we are independent contractors despite the high level of control they exert over our working life,” she said, adding that it is not uncommon for models to be sent to work without prior knowledge of their rate. “If we are independent contractors, let us see our customer contracts.”

The Fashion Workers Act would require agencies to pay models within 45 days of completing a job, which Ziff says allows the client to pay the agency. A 2019 women’s clothing daily report cited customer payment schedules ranging from 30 to 90 days, though some models said they waited months or even years for payments to reach them.

“I started to really understand, without protections, how tough it is,” said Alex Shanklin, a former model and lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against agency Wilhelmina Models Inc. Those working conditions, she said, “made it difficult for me, and I think it makes it almost difficult for anyone unless you’re a supermodel or a celebrity. “

Equally pervasive, the models say, is a culture of racism and discrimination by agencies, particularly against black models. The bill would specifically prevent agencies from discriminating against models on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexuality and other identities protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and from retaliation against models who file complaints against them.

Shanklin said it wasn’t uncommon to think agencies were trying to limit the number of black models they represented. “Sometimes in my career, there would be two black male models on a whole board of 300 or 400 guys, so you almost had to scan and see, ‘OK, do they look like me?'” She said. “I feel that something must be in place that we do not go back”.

A February report from the Fashion Spot website found that NYFW’s February, Fall / Winter 2022 collections by first-time designers were the third most racially diverse since the site began following the Spring season. / Summer 2015. However, overall diversity decreased slightly from the previous season, when 57.1% of the models who attended NYFW shows were models of color. Gender, size and age casting metrics also slipped from previous highs. The biannual events of New York City Fashion Week are estimated to generate $ 887 million in annual revenue, more than similar events in London, Milan and Paris combined.

“The modeling and creative industries of fashion are seen as highly sought-after privileges and positions, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t protect those individuals from rampant exploitation and ensure that the workplace is safe and fair for them,” said Hoylman.

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