Was the freelance/permalance labor strife at Viacom precipitated by New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s overaggressive meddling? In other words, was a freelance-employer relationship that actually provided benefits to freelancers stupidly, unaccountably deemed illegal by Spitzer so that the upshot is that now none of them will get benefits? It seems that way:
Not every employer is out to exploit cheap labor. In the media industry in particular, a company is hard-pressed not to use freelance workers. Many of the most ambitious contractors are young and happy to do the work for a byline or are established enough to want independence — both are attractive. Giving those people steady work or a few perks seems only natural. Unfortunately for employers, it also qualifies them for more.
In September, Governor Spitzer issued an executive order establishing the Joint Enforcement Task Force On Employee Misclassification. Spitzer’s order rattled the cages of a few media companies — the governor wants to look under rocks most of them would prefer remain undisturbed.
Viacom may have faced a choice common to media companies: eliminate benefits to independent contractors, or hire them on as employees. Take away paid vacation, company-provided healthcare and a retirement plan, and it becomes a lot easier to make the case that a freelancer is just a freelancer. Many newspapers spent the summer cleaning house in anticipation — those who haven’t may find themselves in a bind.
Spitzer’s political epitaph will read something along the lines of great media-whoring prosecutor who had horrible politcal acumen and couldn’t quite get the hang of being in executive office.
Exit question: Is Rudy somehow different?