242 UNIONIZING PHOTOGRAPHERS
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.