Editor, Writer

Rachel Kramer Bussel

I work two days a week as a copywriter at the offices of a retail company, and the rest of the time I’m a freelance writer for various national and regional publications, largely focusing on sexuality, dating, and culture, as well as personal essays. I also edit 2-3 short story anthologies per year, teach erotica writing classes and consult about writing with private clients. I generally work anywhere from 30-50 hours per week, and my S-Corp business has grossed six figures for the last three years. I was laid off from my full-time magazine editor job in 2011 and have worked for myself ever since then. My current business brings in over twice the rate of my previous full-time salary.

The two biggest reasons freelance work is important to me are that full-time media jobs are few and far between, given the increasingly volatile nature of the news business, and that I’m able to bring in a far greater income than I would otherwise. Additionally, I’ve chosen not to drive for the last 15 years, and working from home or within walking distance of my home enables me to avoid a long and costly commute while maximizing my time. Instead of commuting during rush hour, I’m working. I’m more productive as a freelance worker because I’m not beholden to a strict 9 to 5 schedule, and that flexibility has enabled me to write for publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Marie Claire, O, The Oprah Magazine and others during the course of my time as a full-time freelancer.

Why I’m Worried: What worries me most about S4204 and A5936 is that I would lose my livelihood and be forced to either move out of the state or rely on my boyfriend’s income, while I looked for likely minimum wage work on a full-time employee basis. As someone who grew up in Bergen County through age 17 and has lived in New Jersey again for the past six years, I’d be dismayed to have to leave my home state in order to make a living at my chosen career.

What Legislators Need to Know: I’d like them to be aware that in both my role as a copywriter and my work with my publisher and writing clients, I’m required to meet with the people I do business with. I should not be penalized for doing so in the name of protecting exploited workers, who I fully agree should be treated and compensated fairly under the law. I have far greater earning potential and flexibility as a freelancer than I ever could as a full-time employee, and am far from exploited. This overly broad legislation would impede my ability to engage in the only career I’ve had in my adult life. I’ve spent the last 20 years building up my name and professional profile so that I could contribute to top tier publications and become known in my field. These bills threaten that status. Furthermore, if I’m unable to earn a decent living in New Jersey, my household will have far less money to spend in our community, as we will be scraping by.

Instructional designer

Tiana Rosen

I am an instructional designer, responsible for designing, building, and often writing course content, from online self-study courses, to instructor-led virtual classes and live instruction delivered in brick-and-mortar classrooms.

Typical tasks of the day vary greatly depending on the point in time in the course production cycle. On any given day, I may be interviewing subject matter experts (typically also freelancers) to identify crucial content for inclusion in the course; designing course templates, layouts, and games for online interaction and media (regardless of subject); writing actual content or assessments; and various other ad-hoc tasks, such as drafting specs documentation, reviewing existing materials for potential updates or course/media refreshes, editing, and basic image creation.

I invoice monthly and am in complete control of my hours, working often from just the guideline of a project delivery deadline. It is up to me to work backwards from that date, create a delivery proposal and course specs, and manage and edit my own schedule as time progresses. That may mean I have a week where I only work a couple hours a day, or I might be working 10-14 hour days in the final crunch time. In either scenario, it is because of my own choosing and the ability to juggle work and life tasks as needed.

This choice is a crucial and deliberate one for me. For the first 16 years of my career, I was a full-time salaried employee working on-site. While I loved the work, the cause (K-12 education) and my team, it was a true pressure cooker environment where I went from delivering just a couple courses a year to well over 10. There was no overtime compensation for extra hours worked, the turnover of employees was high, morale was low, there was reluctance by management to divide up my upper-middle-management role (even upon my request), and the number of courses to be published increased every year. Instead of being given a raise in recognition for my work, I often was promoted instead. Normally that would be a good thing because it did come with a slight raise, but this also meant taking on even more responsibility and stress. Add into the mix an aging mother who lived with me due to physical disabilities and was starting to show signs of the onset of dementia made me realize I couldn’t keep the status quo going much longer.

I waited until my latest cycle of courses was delivered and I tendered my resignation. I did not have another job prospect lined up. I won’t lie. The transition was a bit rough, but I soon found enough freelance work to pay for my bills and get a taste of a better life.

I found that I could perform a mere 20 hours of freelance work a week and make the equivalent of what I had before. That’s 20 hours a week compared to the 60 I had worked but wasn’t being compensated overtime for. No migraines, no cracked molars from grinding my teeth, no guilt on leaving my mother unattended for too long. I now work an average of about 20-30 hours a week and have an income of well over $100K.

This move has changed everything. I can take my mom to specialists and doctor appointments. I can take time in the middle of a traditional work day to sit and talk with her and cook her favorite meal. I was able to provide the best end-of-life care I could for a high-needs senior dog that lost his ability to walk in his final month. When he passed, my mother, sister, and I we were able to visit the animal shelter a month later and adopt a gray-muzzled dog who was deemed “high-needs” enough to have his adoption fee waived due to stress at being at the animal shelter for 2 months. I knew what that type of stress felt like and felt a kinship to him. It’s only one month later and he has since settled into such a sweet and loving soul here with us at home, and he’s enjoying his new role as my full-time sidekick.

I am able to contribute more of both my money and time to charitable causes. I am able to carve out time for the holidays and take my family on vacation rental getaways, just so we can leave my apartment at times and enjoy a home with a bigger kitchen, view, or a pool. The rationale — to carve out protected time to sit back, slow down, and enjoy the time leading up to the holidays together. Wrap presents, prepare old family recipes, bake cookies, and walk the dog down the road searching for squirrels. The irony of this all is, if I didn’t make that change, I wouldn’t be able to physically care for my mother (my office was in Philly), nor would I have been able to afford her care at a memory care facility. Now that is not so much an issue, but I am blessed to be able to have the life flexibility needed to keep her as long by my side here at our home as possible. She deserves that. Don’t we all?

What worries me about S4204: This bill carries truly life-changing ramifications. My client couldn’t take me on as her employee (too much money overall for the ups and downs of cyclical work, as well as special treatment for one of a handful of her contractors). To be honest, I live only 12 miles from the state border, so it would be a very easy decision to move before I give up this lifestyle. The tradeoff there would be that my 84-year-old mother’s network of doctors, specialists, and hospitals would likely need to change. I’ve kept some of her specialists for decades and they are experts in her patient history. It’s still worth it in the end, though, if the move allows us to keep this lifestyle further. And again, the odd part is that the portion of state taxes NJ has seen from my business is higher now in the new regime than the old.

What legislators need to know: I believe their intentions were good with this bill, and there are some whom it will help. But it will be to a detriment of a great many others as well. It’s tempting to “dig in” because so much time has already been spent in debate and revision. Believe me, I know what that’s like: I’ve had courses go back to the drawing board several times, for varying reasons. But sometimes you need to take a fresh look and realize that the target audience isn’t always being served by the design.

Anne Ferara against S4204
Organization Development/Training Consultant

Anne Ferara

For 12 years, I’ve provided project-based consulting services (mostly related to sales), or instructional design or training facilitation to clients through training companies. I manage all aspects of the project from making a recommendation to preparing the deliverables.

The only direction I get is a budget and usually a time frame for the completion of the project. My clients have internal staff that will finalize the final project output. Right now I have two primary clients and then do projects for their clients. I’ve had up to 4 or 5 clients at a time over the years. I set my own schedule, I have a Master Services agreement and pay a significant amount of taxes, both state and federal. My clients provide no equipment or resources.

I chose self-employment for autonomy—for the ability to set my own schedule, work in my own space in the manner I choose. While it can be stressful and hard at times, I know I’m getting paid for all the hours I work. As an exempt employee many, many times I worked significantly more than 40 hours a week. Now I at least get compensated for the efforts I put in.

What will happen to me if S4204/A5936 becomes law: I think it may mean the closing of 12 years of business and relocating out of the state where my whole family lives. I have already started the search because I have little faith the people of NJ will be heard.

What I want lawmakers to know: I would like to think that your intentions are good but you have no sense of the people who will be impacted by this poorly written bill. If I wanted to be an employee I would look for a job and not incur the significant expenses in insurance, taxes, etc., that I experience as an independent business. There has to be a better way to track and ensure that everyone is paying their fair share of taxes and an employer that is truly abusing the assignment of status is addressed. I think your gap is in enforcement, NOT in language. Please don’t ruin the businesses that thousands have built in this state.

Writer

Christine Duval

I work as a freelance copywriter predominantly for the real estate industry. I am also a published author of two young adult novels. I am a single mother of two teenagers. I work from home unless I am meeting real estate clients at listing appointments. This flexibility has allowed me to make raising my kids a top priority.

I enjoy the autonomy of freelancing. My daughter has epilepsy and it has afforded me the opportunity to be present for her neurology appointments and manage her seizures. It also allows me to work at home and work at all hours of the day. My best writing is first thing in the morning before anyone has woken up. If I had to go into an office and write on demand, I don’t think I’d be as productive as I am at 5 am in a quiet house. Working as a freelance writer actually makes me better at what I do.

Why I’m Worried: This will be the nail in the coffin of my business. Real estate companies outsource most of their business. They just aren’t in a position to bring on writers, floor planners, photographers, etc., as full-time employees when their business fluctuates from year to year. I fear they will just tell their agents to write their own copy and bios and I will have to find another line of work.

What Legislators Need to Know: I think they need to re-evaluate the wording of the bill. I am all for workers’ rights but this is crushing the ability of entrepreneurs and creatives to work in the state. New Jersey is already an incredibly expensive place to live in. I pay exorbitant property taxes. I pay high income taxes. The state is already experiencing “flight” by people who just cannot afford to be here anymore. If they take away my ability to make a living, I won’t be able to stay either. It’s really a shame because I like living here and my son has 3 years left of high school. Creative work is by nature freelance work. It’s project work. It varies year to year. And that is what makes it exciting for entrepreneurs like me. Please rework the wording of the bill to allow people like me in the “gig economy” as it is called to continue to work autonomously.

Video Editor

Eve Brue

Why I Freelance: I love the autonomy—I can choose or decline projects at will, and make my own hours. And, I earn more as a freelancer than I did as an employee. 

A lot of my freelance work allows me to work from home. I have autoimmune arthritis, so the lack of commute and flexibility of work hours allow me to better care for my health. 

Why being an independent contractor is better for me: I actually feel that I have more job security. As a freelancer, I’ve worked hard to build a network of contacts, and I’m never without work when I need it. (In fact, I sometimes have to turn it away.) Earlier in my career when I was an employee, I was laid off several times from staff jobs because TV shows weren’t renewed and the production company hadn’t launched a new show to replace it. As a freelancer who works for multiple clients, if a show ends, all of my proverbial eggs aren’t in that basket anyway. I’m much more agile and able to increase my workload with another client.

Why I’m Worried: S4204/A5936 will decimate my ability to make a living in New Jersey, as well as my husband’s. (We’re both freelance video editors.) The way S4204/A5936 is written, it will make it impossible for me to remain an independent contractor in New Jersey. The legislation says that people like me can never go to a client’s office. Not even once. On occasion, I do go to an office, whether to get on the same page creatively through some face-to-face time, or because there’s too much media/data to work remotely. 

I don’t think any of my clients would be willing to make me an employee—nor do I want to be their employee! My New York City-based clients will simply replace me with New York City-based freelancers. I work remotely for all of my non-New York City clients, so they’ll replace me with someone from anywhere else.

What Legislators Should Know: I love being a self-employed, independent contractor! Myself and many others choose to be freelancers. I understand that the bill has good intentions by curbing things like permalancing (where you “freelance” endlessly for only one client but without benefits.) 

However many of us are truly freelancing and benefitting greatly from it. (So is NJ, now that a good amount of my work is from home in NJ, I spend more money in NJ!) We just bought a house in West Long Branch, and I hope to stay here. I will be heartbroken if this bill passes.