COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — New safeguards for freelance workers in and out of central Ohio will kick in on May 31, after Columbus City Council voted at its most recent meeting to codify rules for a growing sector of the American workforce.  

Introduced by President Pro Tem Rob Dorans, the legislation requires businesses hiring freelancers for work of more than $250 to enter into an official contract with their freelancers. That contract will need to detail how much the hiring firm will pay and when payment will be disbursed, according to the ordinance.

“Some of the advocates talked about having a steady stream of work, but then it would take three, four, five, six, eight months for them to actually get a check in the mail,” Dorans said. “At the end of the day, what we want is the worker to get made whole.”

The Columbus Wage Theft Prevention and Enforcement Commission will oversee the new protections and work to resolve disagreements — either informally, or when necessary, through providing a worker with pro bono legal counsel. 

Dorans will introduce an ordinance entering the city into a contract with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus for that service at a future Council meeting, he said. 

A year in the making

The May 1 vote on the legislation was welcome news for Columbus-based freelance writer and photographer Taylor Dorrell. Dorrell writes full-time for a variety of national and local outlets and has done so since he lost his job at the start of the coronavirus pandemic — which is also when he moved back to central Ohio from New York City.

New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle city governments have put similar freelancer protections in place in recent years. Dorrell became intimately familiar with the Freelance Isn’t Free Act. 

“I would actually use that legislation to get paychecks because I would go months without getting paychecks for photo-assisting, so my last resort was always the threatened, ‘Hey, I’m going to send this off to the New York Department of Labor,’” he said. 

But even after he left for Columbus, he said Freelance Isn’t Free still offered safeguards any time he was working with a New York City-based publication.

Under the legislation Council enacted in May, both workers who live elsewhere but freelance for Columbus-based businesses and Columbus-based freelancers who do work for businesses based elsewhere will be eligible, Dorans said. 

In early summer 2022, Dorrell began to push for similar protections in the city through his role as an organizer with digital media union the Freelance Solidarity Project. He felt fueled by what he saw as a growing labor movement nationally and locally — between area Starbucks locations unionizing and the Columbus City Schools teachers’ strike in August. 

It took some time to figure out the city’s niche role, Dorans said, since many labor issues are legislated on a federal and state level. 

Freelance a growing sector

Close to 40% of Americans did some form of freelancing in 2022, which was an all-time high, according to a survey by platform Upwork.

As headwinds continue to hit the economy, more and more businesses in and out of Columbus will outsource their hiring, said Columbus Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Don DePerro. DePerro commended Council on the legislation. 

“It protects our working members of the community from potentially getting stiffed, from not getting paid,” DePerro said. “That’s a black eye on the business community overall.”

With more than 2,000 members in central Ohio, DePerro said the chamber will use the coming weeks to educate about the new rules. The Freelance Solidarity Project will also work to get the word out, Dorrell said, because the legislation is only worthwhile if area freelancers take advantage of it.