Unionizing Photographers

Posted on 8/12/1999 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



August 12, 1999

    Some photographers have misconceptions about labor unions and what they might

    do to defend the rights of freelance photographers. They point to The National

    Writers Union as an example of how this works for writers. Kevin Larkin,

    President of the National Association of Freelance Photographers has provided a

    very clear explanation of the advantages and limitations of being allied with a


by: Kevin Larkin

The National Writers Union is a union only in name. They, like the National

Association of Freelance Photographers, are actually associations which are

united with Unions. The NAFP with the Communication Workers of America,

AFL-CIO, and NWU with United Auto Workers.

Unfortunately, both groups are forbidden under the Labor Relations law to

organize as collective bargaining units. These units can negotiate over set

wages, benefits, etc... only between employees and employers. Independent

contractors, such as freelance writers and photographers, cannot try to set

wages or dayrates unilaterally throughout the industry. The Federal Trade

Commission regards that as price fixing.

The NWU is successful in it's endeavors because it is strongly supported by

freelance writers. Their membership is large, and therefore their budget is

large. They can handle legal matters on behalf of their members and can

operate programs such as a copyright clearing house, which handles licensing

fees, collections and payments. Publishers agree to work with them because of

their influence over their members. Influence which is earned due to the

benefits of membership.

We at the NAFP are trying to build a similar organization for freelance

photographers. We started out in May of 1996, and received our charter from

CWA this past April.

One of the advantages of being a member of a union is that it can provide more

financial and legal assistance than the existing photo groups that represent

only a small segment of the photographic population.

Our goal is to bring all magazine, newspaper, wire service photographers

together with corporate, portrait and other artistic photographers under one

roof all working to protect our ever-eroding rights, and perhaps win some back.

When we first organized, we opened a free Listserve for discussions, collected

ideas, and even attempted to negotiate with the Associated Press over their WFH

contract. When negotiations failed we sued them in Federal Court, although we

only won a token settlement.

Now that we are a formal member of the union, we hope to establish many of the

things that freelance photographers want and need. But unfortunately, we have

no clout at the moment. We have limited benefits to offer in exchange for a

paid membership. We are working to correct this problem, especially in the

areas of health and business insurance. But these problems are only overcome

by hard work and a growing membership.

Why are union's interested in organizing freelancers? They recognize that the

steady surge of independent contractors in our national economy threatens the

balance of labor relations through out the country. Consequently, they are now

reaching out to freelance photographers, as well as many other self-employed

groups, such as, freelance software developers for Microsoft (WASHTEC) and

freelance translators (Translators and Interpreters Guild).

The ground work for a long-lasting photo advocacy group has been laid. A never

before rapport with guilds has been established along with their commitments

for financial and legal aid.

Sooner or later the various photographer groups need to get together and speak

with one voice on the critical issues we all are facing. The simple fact is

that while we photographers bicker amongst ourselves, the publishers will

silently steal everything we cherish.

    For more information about NAFP contact: Kevin J. Larkin, Organizing Officer

    and www.thenafp.org or phone (718) 965-2790.

Copyright © 1999 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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