NY Senate Passes Fashion Workers Act, First Step to Regulation of Modeling Industry

Assembly to vote on bill in labor committee tomorrow

ALBANY, NY (05/20/2024) (readMedia)-- Today, the New York Senate passed the Fashion Workers Act with 45 votes in favor and 17 opposed. The pro-labor legislation would regulate predatory management agencies in New York that currently operate without oversight in the $2.5 trillion fashion industry. The Assembly is set to vote on the bill in the labor committee on Tuesday.

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, immigrant women – and establish a zero-tolerance policy for abuse within the fashion industry.

Support for the bill includes supermodels Beverly Johnson, Karen Elson and Helena Christensen, among others. Last week, SAG-AFTRA, WGAE, Conde Nast Union, Healthy Nail Salon Coalition, Legal Aid, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) joined Workers United, Freelancers Union, Council of Fashion Designers of America, and others in support of the bill.

"Regardless of employment status, all workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Camouflaged by a veil of glamor and prestige, the lack of oversight within the fashion industry puts our mostly young, female, immigrant workforce of models behind others in regards to basic workplace protections. We're so thankful to our bill sponsor in the Senate, Brad Hoylman-Sigal for once again ushering this bill through his chamber. Now, all eyes are on the Assembly as they vote on this bill in the labor committee on Tuesday," said Sara Ziff, Executive Director of the Model Alliance.

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 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:

  • 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 at least 24 hours in advance of a job, and make handing over power of attorney optional and revocable at any time
  • Charge only a 20% commission on earnings with no added fees (i.e. website fees, interest on the model's earnings, inflated rent for model apartments) and 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

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.