Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Tuesday, December 11, 2021

world be free
When are freelancers not freelancers? When they’re office-staff fixtures, or “permalancers”, at MTV/Viacom, to the point where they’re not going to take it anymore:

“The dirty little secret is that they used to treat us like staff but called us freelancers,” said a fellow in animation, a “freelancer” of eight years. Another guy who’s been there for three years actually left the company for ESPN, where he made more money, but then came back for Viacom’s benefits.

So are they really freelancers? “No,” said an editor of four years. “Why? Because we come in and work at the same place every day, don’t work on equipment we own, have taxes taken out of our paychecks, and report to people who are staff.”

This state of affairs was prompted by a unilateral change in benefits to these semi-employees:

The changes to the benefits package were announced last Tuesday. Freelancers were told that they would become eligible for benefits after 160 days of work, beginning in January. While that eased previous eligibility rules, which required freelancers to work for 52 weeks before becoming eligible, it would have required all freelancers not yet eligible for benefits to start the waiting period over again on Jan. 1. The 401(k) plan was also removed.

On Thursday, acknowledging the complaints, MTV Networks reinstated the 401(k) plan and said freelancers who had worked consistently since March would be eligible for the new benefits package without an additional wait. Still, other changes continued to cause anger.

This does hit home for me. I call myself a consultant, which is essentially a freelance endeavor. And in fact, since some 90 percent of my working hours are devoted to a single major client — where I use their computer equipment and office space almost exclusively, versus my own resources — I pretty much am a permalancer. (Furthermore, I work with a colleague at this same client who, despite heading up a department and being fully-ingrained into organizational procedures, is also technically a consultant/permalancer.)

But the point of divergence: Benefits. I get none, and I ask for none. Truthfully, in my mind, that’s the dividing line between employee and hired-gun (to put it bluntly). For me, that’s the ultimate way I keep my options open — if I wanted to walk away from the indefinite assignment tomorrow, there’d be no formal ties to bind me, beyond collecting on the final billable hours.

So in my mind, accepting healthcare and 401(k)s is a step that moves you out of the freelance mainstream anyway. I’m not saying you shouldn’t look for further rights and protections under that setup. But really, how much more is there to becoming a “real” employee beyond that? A few more taxes deductions to play with? Essentially, nothing.

Obviously, the Freelancers Union is weighing in on all this. Something tells me that neither MTV nor Viacom will be making FU’s top ten list of freelance-friendly workplaces, as they both did last year.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/11/2021 11:19:07 PM
Category: Business, New Yorkin'
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