Model Alliance, SAG-AFTRA, WGAE & More Rally for Fashion Workers Act Ahead of Met Gala

SAG-AFTRA, Writers Guild of America East, Condé Union, Freelancers Union, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Workers United, Models Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, Kaja Sokola, + More urge lawmakers to pass the Fashion Workers Act as Industry Celebrates New York's Biggest Fashion Event

Related Media


NEW YORK, NY (05/05/2024) (readMedia)-- Ahead of Monday's Met Gala, the Model Alliance joined dozens of models, labor unions, and advocates to rally for the Fashion Workers Act – a pro-labor bill that would regulate predatory management agencies in New York and equip models with workplace protections within the $2.5 trillion fashion industry. Gathered outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the rally featured SAG-AFTRA, the Writers Guild of America East, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Condé Union, the Freelancers Union, and more, all urging New York lawmakers to pass the Fashion Workers Act this spring.

WATCH the rally on the Model Alliance Instagram. Photos of the press conference are attached.

"As fashion's biggest stars head to the Met Gala tomorrow, we cannot let them forget the workforce propping up the $2.5 trillion industry. Despite the glamor and prestige that the Met Gala and the broader fashion industry project, models continue to work without fundamental workplace protections, beholden to predatory management agencies. That's why we are urging New York lawmakers to pass the Fashion Workers Act, giving models basic labor rights and protections. We cannot celebrate the fashion industry without respecting and supporting the very faces of it," said Sara Ziff, founder and executive director of the Model Alliance.

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 – are not afforded basic labor protections in New York. The Fashion Workers Act would close this loophole, create basic protections for models – often young women – and establish a zero-tolerance policy for abuse within the fashion industry.

"I'm tired of the loopholes in the fashion industry that leave models vulnerable in cycles of debt and abuse. The Fashion Workers Act could have saved me and so many other models. We are no different than any other workforce, and it's long past time for our industry to catch up and implement basic workplace protections," said model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez.

"From garment workers to the runway, we work in a highly unregulated industry, suffering from wage theft, sexual abuse, trafficking, and unfortunately much more. Passing the Fashion Workers Act is not merely a matter of policy; it's about holding accountable those who abuse their power and providing a platform for voices long silenced," said model Kenny Sale. "The Fashion Workers Act represents a beacon of hope for change – a pivotal step towards ensuring the safety, dignity, and fair treatment of all workers within the fashion industry."

SAG-AFTRA Chief Labor Policy Officer and New York Local Executive Director Rebecca Damon said, "Just because a person has followed their dreams and is in a profession that they love, does not mean that they should be taken advantage of. As a society that values art, creativity, and expression, we have an obligation to put appropriate guardrails in place so that people are not preyed upon. The fashion workers who are the faces of global brands deserve to be protected and empowered."

"For far too long, fashion workers in the US have faced abusive and exploitative conditions, including wage theft, sexual abuse, and discrimination. The Fashion Workers Act will create basic legal protections for fashion models and creatives and we urge the New State Legislature to pass this bill as soon as possible," said Julie Kelly, Vice President of Workers United and General Manager of the Workers United New York New Jersey Joint Board.

"New York cannot allow another year to go by without protections for its fashion workers. Our city is the fashion capital of the world because of the people working to ensure the industry's success. Yet, too many of those workers are being exploited of their wages, while billions of dollars flow through the industry and our city's and state's economy. The Fashion Workers Act will finally give models, photographers, makeup artists and others the wage protections they desperately need and deserve. Freelancers Union is proud to support the Model Alliance in their efforts," said Rafael Espinal, President of the Freelancers Union.

"Many regular business practices of the New York modeling industry perpetuate human trafficking – both labor and sex trafficking. By creating an environment where models are forced to sign unconscionable contracts that lack transparency and leaves them with little control over their careers, they become vulnerable to exploitation. This exploitation leads to both forced labor or sexual abuse or both," said Sumani Lanka, Staff Attorney, The Legal Aid Society.

"In the luminous world of fashion, where creativity crafts the extraordinary, it is unacceptable that the architects of this splendor lack the shield of basic rights. As New York stands as a pivotal hub for this global industry, it is our duty to ensure that every artist, from the sketch pad to the runway, is protected," said Senator Robert Jackson. "The Fashion Workers Act isn't just legislation; it's a commitment to fairness, ensuring that the hands that weave the threads of our culture are respected and safeguarded."

"All workers deserve fair and safe working conditions. Workers in the fashion industry are no exception. It is long past time to close the loopholes that enable fashion workers to be exploited, and to ensure that management companies act in the best interest of the people they have agreed to represent. We must pass the Fashion Workers Act this session, as soon as possible," said Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg.

"The fashion industry is a global industry worth $2.5 trillion. In New York, approximately 6% of the city's workforce is employed by the fashion industry. Despite their immense economic impact, fashion workers, particularly models, do not have basic labor protections. This is why New York needs the Fashion Workers Act. We must hold these companies accountable and ensure the health, safety, and financial well-being of the models that work for them," said Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes.

"Currently the fashion industry, employing 180,000 in New York State, is almost entirely unregulated. This allows for the exploitation of young models under the guise of legitimate fashion businesses. The New York State Fashion Workers Act aims to eliminate a legal loophole enabling model management companies to evade regulation and proper licensing procedures. The Act addresses these issues thereby ensuring modeling agencies' accountability and creates basic protections for the fashion industry's workforce. This legislation requires management agencies to furnish models with contract copies, prioritize their health and safety, and secure clear written consent for the creation or utilization of a model's digital likeness. Additionally, it enforces standard labor practices, including overtime compensation and meal breaks," said New York Assemblyman Al Stirpe.

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 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 would 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 companies to:

  • Establish a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of their talent
  • Provide models with copies of contracts and agreements
  • Notify formerly represented models if they collect royalties on their behalf
  • Register and deposit a surety bond of $50,000 with the NYS Department of State
  • Obtain clear, written consent for the use of a model's digital replica
  • Protect the health and safety of models, including by establishing a zero-tolerance policy for abuse

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
  • Charging models interest on payment of their earnings
  • Charging more than the daily fair market rate for accommodation
  • Deducting any other fee or expense than the agreed upon commission
  • 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.

About the Model Alliance

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.