Freelancers Fight to Be Paid

About 40% of freelancers had trouble getting paid in 2009, according to a survey released in mid-April by the New York-based Freelancers Union, a 135,000-member organization for independent contractors across the country in fields such as media, technology, and advertising.

I recently attended a gathering of freelancers so this jumped out at me. 40% seems awfully high. If you’re a freelancer reading this, has it ever happened to you?


  1. Anonymous April 28, 2010

    I’m not surprised at this at all as it has happened to me. However I’m a member of the National Writers Union and one of the things we do for our members (all freelancers) is put them in touch with a grievance officer who goes after these types of employers with a vengeance to get a writer paid.

  2. Anna Tarkov April 28, 2010

    Good to know that there are recourses like this for freelancers. Thanks for the comment Karen.

  3. Kate Gardiner April 28, 2010

    Yep, I’ve been stiffed. Publication took advantage of its location (far away) and the delete button on email.

  4. Anna Tarkov April 28, 2010

    Man, that’s cold.

  5. Anonymous April 28, 2010

    I definitely fell victim to not being paid as a freelancer last year. I had been contacted to perform a week’s worth of web development work for a Downer’s Grove company remotely. I completed the work as requested and was owed $500 [after taxes.] I never saw one single penny of this.

    I’ve been waiting with Illinois Department of Labor for months and months now to get paid for that job that was completed in October. The worst part is the company refused to pay me saying that even though I did the work, I didn’t “deserve” to be paid. The owner even went as far as saying that I was never “technically employed” yet in another email goes to say he “fired” me. Unfortunately at the time I was quite immobile (wheelchair bound from surgeries) so the only proof I have is email exchanges and a fax to him of my W4 to him (as it was going from freelance to part-time employment.)

    Such is life!

  6. Anonymous April 29, 2010

    I don’t think the 40 percent is high at all. There are many, many freelancers (including me) who have money tied up in the Tribune Company’s bankruptcy–we’ll probably never see it. I’m owed $900.

  7. Anna Tarkov April 29, 2010


  8. Kate Gardiner April 29, 2010

    In many industries that'd be nothing – but in writing… $900 whole dollars? holy god 😉

  9. Anonymous April 29, 2010

    I’ve had employers try to stiff me as a freelancer but have been extremely persistent, asking them by phone, voice mail and e-mail if perhaps I should be dealing with someone else at the company such as the VP of accounting, the CFO, etc. That usually gets a quick payment from the client. And one time I had to file against UIC in Small Claims Court, and had the bailiff serve the notice at the client’s university office. Another time, recently, a Web site publisher/editor was stiffing several freelancers – some thought she was a pathological liar but she was definitely in a major financial morass — so I posted a comment about the situation, with her name, on Media Bistro and urged other freelancers for the site to do the same, as she found all of us via MB. I got an immediate e-mail offering to pay me by Pay Pal (after two bounced checks) if I would remove my post. I did so after the payment went through because my comments were no longer true, but others posts remained as those writers and graphics people were not paid.

  10. Anna Tarkov April 29, 2010

    Wow, Pat, that’s interesting. I’ve had someone else give almost the opposite response. She’s currently trying to get someone to pay up and when I asked if I could post her situation here, she didn’t want me to. She felt publicly shaming the delinquent party would only make collecting more difficult.

  11. Anonymous April 30, 2010

    Hi Anna, I think you have to develop a feel for the situation — is someonereally strapped financially and just holding off payment, in whichcase, tell them you gather that they are facing a current cash flowproblem, and offer them a payment plan. That also embarrasses themenough to get paid :) But there is a rule in business: If your terms are “full payment due in30 days,” then you send a second invoice — put on top of it SecondNotice — the minute 30 days arrive. And you call the client. And youmake up different reasons, but you keep on it. Then you leave word, ifthey aren’t calling back, asking nicely if it would be better to talkwith (head of accounting, CFO, etc.). Anyhow, I have never gone unpaid. Pat Terry

  12. Anonymous May 1, 2010

    Shakespeare Squared is still advertising for writers.

  13. Anonymous May 1, 2010

    Excellent advice, Pat. But when a company goes into bankruptcy, like the Chicago Tribune, there’s no recourse. The company is paying now, but there’s a ‘hole’ of about eight weeks in Fall 2008–right before declaring bankruptcy–when they didn’t. Anyone who wrote for and invoiced them during that time period essentially gave their work away.

  14. Anna Tarkov May 1, 2010

    Pamela, yes, I noticed that Shakespeare Squared is still looking for writers. It came up this morning in my job alerts. I was kind of shocked to see it, but I guess if someone wasn’t aware of the problems with them, they’d see nothing wrong with applying. I certainly didn’t!

  15. Anonymous May 1, 2010

    Well, then, why don’t you upaid writers post your experiences as a “Warning,” which is what many of us did regarding last year — and it effectively cut off her source of new victims. Pat Terry

  16. Anonymous May 1, 2010

    Pamela, Again, why don’t all of you who have been “stiffed,” post that message on the site as a warning to other freelancers. Several of us did that with and it effectively cut off Vicki Harrer’s (editor/publisher) supply of victims. Pat Terry

  17. Anonymous May 1, 2010

    I was only referring to clients who are not bankrupt, but with the Tribune, why not see if the editor can help? We got paid for a story that I think ran during the timeframe. It took forever, but we finally collected — with help from the editor, who just added that amount into another check, as I recall. And he kept sending through our invoice. Finally, not too long ago (this year), we got paperwork asking if we had been paid. Pat

  18. Anonymous May 2, 2010

    Two more thoughts: In PR I always use a contract and with newjournalism clients, especially ones we know nothing about, I use themalso. With, one of the major reasons I got my moneywas my contract, signed by the editor/publisher who was stiffingpeople. Another idea is to get part of your money upfront with any newclient. Granted, that would be hard to come by with a newspaper ormagazine. Pat Terry

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