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Fashion Workers Act clears N.Y. Senate, awaits Assembly hurdle

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New York is a hub for the global fashion industry with the semi-annual New York Fashion Week generating $600 million in state revenue every year. About 180,000 people work in New York’s fashion industry to the tune of almost $11 billion in total wages. 

A bill gaining momentum in the state Legislature would regulate talent companies hiring models and give fashion workers the same labor protections as other industries.  

Lawmakers want to ensure those workers have basic labor protections from wage theft, harassment and discrimination.

The Fashion Workers Act would regulate talent companies and mandate proper notification about contract renewals and agreements. It would cap agency commission fees to 20% of a model’s pay. 

“For some reason, these management companies are not being held to the same standards as clients, or as employers, so it’s really about filling that loophole and ensuring that those people are being held accountable,” said Rafael Espinal, executive director of the Freelancers Union.

The Senate has passed the bill for a second time, but it continues to be held up in the Assembly.

Management companies can currently avoid licensing and regulations, allowing them to control booking talent and their pay rates.

Workers typically have exclusive multi-year contracts or work Visas with these companies, which aren’t required to pay them in a timely fashion. 

If the bill becomes law, they must be paid no more than 45 days from doing the job. 

“We’re also talking about a young, vulnerable workforce, you know, mostly young immigrant women and girls who don’t have basic rights as workers,” said Sara Ziff, the Model Alliance’s executive director, who has fought for the bill since it was first proposed three years ago.

It was amended this session to protect fashion industry workers from a company using artificial intelligence (AI) to alter their appearance without their consent.

Ziff said a Taiwanese American model she knows recently had a company use AI to alter her appearance to make her look like a white woman.

“So there’s a range of issues, but you know, what we’re asking for is so basic – being able to see our contracts and agreements and have insight into our own finances,” Ziff said. “This shouldn’t be controversial.”

The fashion industry is a $2.5 trillion global industry each year that generates about $2 billion in tax revenue for the state.

The Assembly Labor Committee is expected to advance the Fashion Worker’s Act for the first time on Tuesday. Labor Committee chair Harry Bronson says he hopes it will be brought to the floor for a vote before the session ends. 

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