Among the many problems plaguing the modeling industry is the fact that models have no way to recoup lost wages if a client is unwilling or unable to pay. Fortunately, the Model Alliance and Freelancers Union are working together to change that.
According to an announcement posted on Model Alliance's site, the two organizations are working together to help pass the Freelancer Payment Protection Act, a proposed law that will help protect models and other freelancers in New York from deadbeat clients as well as protect models from wage theft by their agencies.
Under the new law, victims of nonpayment will be able to file complaints with the New York State Department of Labor, and after investigating, the Department of Labor may award victims 100% of what they're owed, plus attorney's fees and interest--Something models Sara Ziff, and Caitriona Balfe, who collectively lost $300,000 dollars in wages, will no doubt feel pretty good about.
According to a statement on Model Alliance, Balfe lost a whopping €240,000 in wages when, after several successful runway seasons, her Italian agency, Paolo Tomei, filed for bankruptcy. What's worse, the agency had allegedly siphoned off their models' money to private bank accounts in Luxembourg. Despite Balfe's solid case, her lawyers informed her that any lawsuit against the agency would be extremely unlikely to ever go to court, given that her classification as self-employed meant she would have to have each client (read: designers like Miuccia Prada, Domenico Dolce, Stefano Gabbana, Angela Missoni) testify in court that she had indeed worked for them. Balfre was forced to accept that she would never be paid for almost two years of work.
Balfe ran into similar trouble, years later, while working in the States but this time she decided to fight it. After money dried up from a consistent BCBG gig, Balfre decided to do something very, very rare for a model: She refused to work for the company until she received payments owed. It wasn't until after several months and persistent inquiries that the company finally coughed up what was rightfully Balfre's money in the first place.
It's pretty shocking that a company as big as BCBG would be able to get away with such behavior, and it's equally disheartening that far from fighting on Balfre's behalf, her agency seemed to be siding with the client.
Ziff, who ran into similar troubles when NYC retailer Olive and Bettes never paid up, said this is by no means a rare occurrence for the average model, which is why it's so important for the Freelancer Payment Protection Act to actually be put into place. The law has already passed in the New York State Assembly, but the Model Alliance and Freelancers Union are asking for support to ensure that the Senate will also pass the bill--hopefully by the end of this legislative session. You can help the initiative by emailing Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos through the Freelancers Union site, here