BREAKING: New York State Passes First in the Nation Fashion Workers Act to Regulate the Modeling Industry

Now bill heads to Governor Hochul to sign into law

ALBANY, NY (06/07/2024) (readMedia)-- Today, for the first time since the bill was introduced three years ago, the New York Assembly and Senate both passed the Fashion Workers Act. This first in the nation pro-labor legislation will regulate predatory management agencies in New York that currently operate without oversight in the $2.5 trillion fashion industry. Fashion is big business in New York – Fashion Week alone generates close to $600 million in income each year for the State. And yet, models – the literal faces of the industry – have not been afforded basic labor protections in New York. The Fashion Workers Act would close this loophole, create basic protections for models – often young, immigrant women – and establish a zero-tolerance policy for abuse within the fashion industry.

"The Fashion Workers Act validates the basic premise that models are workers, deserving of the same rights and protections as anyone else who works for a living, not fewer. This is a major leap forward for the fashion industry which since its inception, has been an absolute backwater for workers' rights, camouflaged by glamor and rife with a range of abuses considered the price of admission. Today, New York – one of the fashion capitals of the world – has said unequivocally that the status quo is unacceptable. It is a major victory for our workforce of overwhelmingly young women and girls, and we are deeply grateful to our bill sponsors Senator Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Member Reyes for their unwavering support. We urge Governor Hochul to sign the Fashion Workers Act into law immediately," said Sara Ziff, Executive Director of the Model Alliance.

"I am overjoyed that the New York State legislature passed the Fashion Workers Act because I know firsthand how models - often very young girls - are forced to normalize financial and sexual exploitation. This shouldn't be normal. And now, it won't be. I urge Governor Hochul to sign this bill into law immediately so that we can protect the next generation of young people who work or aspire to work in the fashion industry," said Carre Otis, supermodel and Board Member, Model Alliance.

Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said: "I am very proud that the Fashion Workers Act has now passed in both legislative houses and I am extremely grateful to Assemblymember Reyes for her work getting it through the Assembly. Our bill will close the legal loopholes that allow modeling agencies to maintain near-complete control over a model's finances, job opportunities, and use of their personal image. Our bill will also put a cap on the outrageously high fees these agencies charge, prohibit jobs that pose unreasonable risks to models, protect models from having their digital image replicas used without their consent, and empower the Attorney General and Department of Labor to go after management companies that violate these rules. New York has long prided itself on being the fashion capital of the United States. When the Governor signs this bill into law, models working in our state will finally receive the labor protections that they are entitled to, making New York the fashion worker protection capital, as well."

"I applaud my colleagues for passing this important bill today," said Assembly Member Karines Reyes, R.N., Chairperson of the Assembly Subcommittee on Workplace Safety. "Fashion workers are just like any other class of workers in our society. They deserve adequate workplace protections to prevent and punish harassment, coercion, and abuse in the fashion industry. Our state's labor laws need to reflect the 21st Century workforce, and today's vote gets us one step closer. Thank you to Speaker Heastie for your leadership and to senate sponsor Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal."

"Fifty years ago I broke barriers by gracing the cover of American Vogue magazine, becoming the first Black person to achieve this milestone despite being repeatedly told that it was unattainable. Today, after decades in the fashion industry, the challenges of underrepresentation and inequality for Black models continues to persist, and it remains particularly difficult for Black survivors to speak out about abuse and be believed. I am thrilled the State Legislature passed The Fashion Workers Act: it is a critical first step in providing every model with fundamental labor protections and ensuring everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Now, Governor Hochul must sign this bill into law without delay," said Beverly Johnson, supermodel.

"Everyone deserves a safe, respectful work environment free from harassment and abuse. It's heartbreaking that so many models who keep this industry running have experienced sexual violence and financial exploitation, by the very people who are supposed to represent their interests. I am so glad the Legislature passed the Fashion Workers Act, and I am hopeful Governor Hochul will sign this bill into law and deliver basic rights to models once and for all," said Helena Christensen, supermodel and photographer.

"The passing of the Fashion Workers Act is an historical achievement for models in NY. Its implementation will help shift the scales on the gross power imbalance that has existed between models and predatory management companies. This is a labor win like any other and I'm beyond proud of the work done by the Model Alliance to protect this very vulnerable workforce," said Alyssa Sutherland, actor and former model.

"CFDA appreciates the passage of the Fashion Workers Act, which is essential for protecting models in New York's fashion industry. This legislation closes legal loopholes, ensures fair treatment, and establishes basic labor protections. It promotes transparency, safeguards health and safety, and supports the rights of fashion workers who drive our industry forward," said Steven Kolb, CFDA CEO.

"For decades, the lack of regulation in the modeling industry has created a breeding ground for abuse, where powerful men – from politicians to movie moguls – have been able to prey on the aspirations of young women without consequence. But now, with the passage of the Fashion Workers Act, New York has taken a historic step to fix this broken system. I encourage Governor Hochul to sign this bill as soon as possible so no more models have to go through the pain I went through," said Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, model and Board Member, Model Alliance.

"I am thrilled that the Legislature finally passed the Fashion Workers Act because it's important that model management companies in the multi-trillion dollar fashion industry are held accountable for exploiting models for years. We have to stand together because at the end of the day, we're all workers – no matter what industry you're in, whether it's Amazon or the runway, we all deserve our fair share. Governor Hochul must sign this bill into law immediately - it's about time these management companies do right by workers," said Chirs Smalls, President of Amazon Labor Union.

"It is about time that New York recognizes that models are workers, and deserve to be treated as such. The Fashion Workers Act will finally create essential labor protections for models, including financial transparency and protections against harassment, discrimination, and unsafe working conditions, and allow them to exercise their rights without risking retaliation. I am elated that the Legislature passed this bill which will protect workers in the fashion industry – many of whom are young, immigrant women and girls. Now Governor Hochul must sign this pro-labor bill into law," said Rafeal Espinal, Executive Director of the Freelancers Union.

"We applaud Model Alliance's relentless efforts to hold the fashion industry to account and tackle systems that enable human trafficking. The passage of the Fashion Workers Act could not have happened without the strong advocacy and public engagement efforts of Model Alliance. With their work and this Act, we can expect not only changes in practices that amount to labor exploitation but also greater justice and dignity at work for those in the fashion industry," said Philippe Sion, Managing Director, Forced Labor and Human Trafficking, Humanity United.

"Beyond the glamorous facade, my journey through the modeling industry has hardened me- from financial exploitation to sexual assault. Perhaps we are placed on this earth to endure hardships that inspire us to build better lives. The Fashion Workers Act is a major win as we now have enforceable standards for fair and safe working conditions across professions," said Kai Branden, model and actor.

"I have been modeling since I was 16 years old. To see the Legislature embrace a much needed, positive change for the fashion industry such as The Fashion Workers Act is overwhelmingly hopeful. Working with an organization like the Model Alliance has altered my perspective on what the fashion world once left me remembering. I am so grateful to them, our legislative sponsors, and the council members of the Model Alliance for making this change a possibility. This is just the beginning but a huge step in the long awaited, right direction and I'm hopeful the Governor will sign it into law promptly!" said Sydney Proctor, model.

"I've had hundreds of people, mostly teenage girls, tell me about their dreams of modeling. It would break me. I despised the idea of them entering an industry where they wouldn't be human, where they wouldn't receive basic labor rights. With the passing of The Fashion Workers Act, I'll be able to sleep better at night knowing that those children growing up with modeling dreams will be safer if they enter the industry," said Rozi Levine, model.

"I want my work in this industry to be intentional and purposeful. The Fashion Workers Act - a bill that I am proud to have contributed non-discrimination provisions to, would provide so many more protections from others abuses rampant in the industry if left unchecked; like financial abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological / emotional abuse. We, as models, deserve the same dignity, safety, and comfort while working, as all other professions do - unionized or not. Models deserve the same rights and basic protections that other workers in this country receive freely, so it is wildly unfair and purely unjust to allow us to have any less than what the Fashion Workers' Act will grant when passed into law. We are not asking for much; we are asking for the bare minimum. This is about workers rights, civil rights, and human rights," said Mamé Adjei, model and actor.

"I was sexually assaulted by a fashion photographer over 15 years ago. The passage of the Fashion Workers Act allows me to continue healing from this trauma, even in the absence of accountability from my perpetrator. Passing the Fashion Workers Act has ensured protections for working models that have never before existed. Today I look back at my 19-year-old self, broken and afraid, and get to tell her that one day she will fight for things to be better. And she will win," said Ashley Grace, former model turned social worker and college professor.

"As a former fashion model, I can personally attest to the challenges and predatory practices that have long been standard in our industry. The passage of the Fashion Workers Act would be a transformative step towards creating a fairer and safer environment for all fashion workers. This bill promises to close critical loopholes, ensure transparency, and protect the rights and well-being of the models who are the very face of the fashion industry. It's a game changer that will bring much-needed regulation and accountability, setting a new standard for how we treat our talent," said Dorothee Grant, former model and co-founder of Kaveat.

"The passage of the Fashion Workers Act is monumental for the many models, like me, who have endured exploitation, abuse, labor and even sex trafficking. New York is truly leading the nation in labor reform, and I look forward to Governor Hochul signing this historic bill into law. Prevention stops abuse before it starts," said Shaina Danziger, former model and filmmaker.

"Passing the Fashion Workers Act would mean that for the first time in history, New York State lawmakers acknowledge me as a worker that deserves the same protections and dignity as every other industry. It would begin to shift the unbalanced power dynamics and legal loopholes that afflict the industry and typically lead to a diminished quality of life for fashion workers. It would mean our constant cries for help and regulation of the industry have finally reached the hearts of the people who have the power to enact systemic positive change within an industry we love so dearly. It would mean that fashion workers are not just seen, but also heard," said Jaylin Carlson, model.

"As a former model and current class action plaintiff against several modeling agencies in New York City, it's evident now more than ever, models and creative workers in the fashion industry are long overdue basic labor protections that every worker deserves. I am thrilled the state Legislature is finally recognizing this and I'm confident Governor Hochul will sign this pro-labor bill into law," said Alex Shanklin, former model.

"I left Elite Model Management after they began withholding earnings and using intimidation tactics against me and my peers. Most fashion models aren't Jenners or Hadids, shielded from mistreatment by nepotism and generational wealth: they are working-class New Yorkers who rely on their wages to live. But financial abuse is the tip of the iceberg in an industry rife with human rights violations. The Fashion Workers Act is a crucial step in protecting a workforce whose exploitation is concealed by a curated illusion of glamor and affluence," said A..M. Lukas.

"So proud and grateful to be a part of the fashion workers act, a full circle moment for me and a first step in the right direction towards a safer and more equitable work environment for models, especially immigrant models like me. Governor Hochul must sign it into law immediately," said Nidhi Sunil, model and Board Member of Model Alliance.

"As one of the largest fashion capitals in the world, New York has a responsibility to protect the very workers who enable the industry to profit and bolster the city's economy. Passage of the Fashion Workers Act is a critical step in ensuring that New York is not just an economic leader in fashion, but an ethical leader setting the global standard for basic labor practices and protections," said former state Senator Alessandra Biaggi.

The Fashion Workers Act is a signature achievement of the Model Alliance which has built a strong coalition of support over the past three years including supermodels like Beverly Johnson, Karen Elson and Helena Christensen, as well as labor organizations like SAG-AFTRA, WGAE, Conde Nast Union, Healthy Nail Salon Coalition, Legal Aid, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), Workers United, and the Freelancers Union.

Founded in 2012, the Model Alliance has been at the forefront of advancing labor rights in the fashion industry for the last decade. Through strategic research, policy initiatives, and campaigns, the Model Alliance aims to promote fair treatment, equal opportunity, and more sustainable practices in the fashion industry, from the runway to the factory floor. The Model Alliance has championed multiple pieces of legislation, including the Child Model Act and the Adult Survivors Act in New York and the Talent Protections Act in California. The organization also runs the world's only industry-specific support line, MA Support. In 2021, the organization received the first Positive Social Influence Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America at the CFDA Awards.

Background on the Fashion Workers Act:

Modeling agencies are considered to be management companies under New York State General Business Law §171(8), known as the "incidental booking exception," allowing them to escape licensing and regulation. In almost every case, management companies are granted blanket "power of attorney" as part of their agreement to represent models, giving management companies power to accept payments on behalf of the model, deposit checks and deduct expenses, as well as book jobs, negotiate the model's rate of pay, and give third parties permission to use the model's image, while having no obligation to act in their talents' best interests.

This leaves models unprotected outside the terms of their individual contracts – which tend to be exploitative and one-sided in favor of the management company – and creates a lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to basic issues like health and safety and having insight into one's own finances. For example, models often don't know whether and how much they'll be paid for jobs booked through management companies, which deduct various unexplained fees from their earnings, in addition to a 20 percent commission from the model and a 20 percent service fee from the client. Models are held to multi-year, auto-renewing contracts without any guarantee of actually being booked paid work, which ensnares them in cycles of debt and makes models highly vulnerable to other forms of abuse, including sexual abuse and human trafficking. When models experience abuse, they do not have a safe channel to file work-related grievances without a risk of retaliation.

The Fashion Workers Act will address these issues by closing the legal loophole by which management companies escape accountability and create basic protections for the models who are the faces of New York's fashion industry.

The Fashion Workers Act would require management agencies to:

  • Conduct due diligence to ensure castings and jobs don't pose unreasonable risk of danger to the model, allow a model to be accompanied by a chaperone, and establish a zero tolerance policy for abuse
  • Allow models to file a complaint with the labor commissioner, and decline to participate in a casting or booking due to good faith concerns, without retaliation
  • Establish a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of their talent
  • Provide models with copies of contracts and agreements, and deal memos memorializing such agreements, at least 24 hours in advance of a job
  • Make handing over power of attorney optional and revocable at any time
  • Charge a 20% commission maximum on earnings and notify formerly represented models if they collect royalties on their behalf
  • Share in writing the rate charged to the model for accommodation in advance of the model's stay
  • Register and deposit a surety bond of $50,000 with the NYS Department of State
  • Obtain clear written consent for the creation or use of a model's digital replica, detailing the scope, purpose, rate of pay, and duration of such use

And discontinue bad practices such as:

  • Presenting power of attorney as a necessary condition for entering into a contract with the management company
  • Collecting signing fees or deposits from models
  • Deducting fees or expenses from the model's earnings other than the agreed upon commission (i.e. website fees, accommodation fees, delivery fees, interest on payment of the model's earnings)
  • Renewing the contract without the model's affirmative consent
  • Imposing a commission fee greater than twenty percent of the model's compensation
  • Taking retaliatory action against a model for filing a complaint
  • Engaging in discrimination or harassment of any kind against a model on the basis of race, ethnicity, and other legally permissible categories under Section 296(a) of the Executive Law
  • Creating, altering, or manipulating a model's digital replica using artificial intelligence without clear written consent from the model.

The Fashion Workers Act would require clients to:

  • Provide overtime pay for work that exceeds eight consecutive hours
  • Provide a meal break for work that exceeds eight consecutive hours
  • Allow the model to be accompanied by a chaperone
  • Provide liability insurance to cover the health and safety of models
  • Protect the health and safety of models, including by establishing a zero-tolerance policy for abuse
  • Obtain clear written consent for the creation or use of a model's digital replica, detailing the scope, purpose, rate of pay, and duration of such use.