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Fashion Workers Act passes legislature, heads to Governor's desk

Dave Lucas
/
WAMC

Models across New York are cheering passage of the Fashion Workers Act.

State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal says the legislation will support models, protect them from abuse, require modeling agencies to protect models from the use of their images without consent, ensure payments in a fair and timely manner, and increase health and safety protections.

The Democrat from the 47th District sponsored the measure and says the more than $2.5 trillion global industry accounts for roughly 6 percent of New York City’s workforce.

“Behind the glamor, the big brands, the billboards, the red carpets, part of New York's fashion industry are a far cry from the luxury that we as consumers see,” Hoylman-Sigal said. “In fact, the industry largely lacks transparency, accountability and workplace safety standards for its workers, who are a crucial part of the economic and cultural fabric of our state.”

Hoylman-Sigal says if the bill is signed by Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, legal loopholes where agencies have escaped accountability, would be closed.

Democrat Karines Reyes of the 87th District sponsored the legislation in the Assembly.

“This bill represents our values as a state that values workers, a state that uplifts labor unions and the right for workers to organize and fight for their protections,” Reyes said. “This is another piece of that puzzle, and I think a huge win for New York.”

The Model Alliance, a New York City-based nonprofit, works to protect and advance workers' rights in the fashion industry. The group says the first in the nation legislation would cover models and content creators. Sarah Ziff is the group's founder and executive director.

"Since we established our support line over a decade ago, we've helped thousands of people with a range of work-related issues from exploitative contracts to sexual harassment and abuse, but it's often like trying to put a band aid over a big gaping wound," said Sarah Zipp, the founder and executive director of The Model Alliance. "Despite hearing the same types of complaints over and over again, there's been a limit to what we can do without having the law on our side."

Nidhi Sunil is a member of the nonprofit's board of directors. Born in India, Sunil moved to New York City to pursue a modeling career. She compared working in the industry to the "wild west," saying she was often taken advantage of.

"I know that there's so much more work to be done. I feel like every time we turn a corner in this industry, there's a new challenge that we have to confront and we have to problem solve for which right now is models' likeness being used for being used, without them being paid, thanks to AI," Sunil said.

Ashley Grace, an actress and former model, says as a teenager, she was raped on a photoshoot set. Grace says she didn't grasp how unsafe she was in the field before pursuing a degree in social work. Grace says the law allows her to continue healing.

"Today, I get to look back at my 19-year-old self who was so broken and so afraid, and I get to tell her that when that one day, she will fight for things to be better and that she will win," Grace said.

Mamé Adjei, a model and actor seen in America’s Next top Model in 2015, says she hopes these new protections support people of color.

“Because you can imagine, as a Black woman, I've had horrific things done and said to me at work. For example, 'we have enough Black women on set,' or 'we have enough Black women that we represent.' So, me, being the third Black person, is like, how can you say that to people," Adjei said. "So, I just really hope that these provisions can also go into just stopping this from happening, you know, over and over and again, and that's having the protections needed to fight back when they do happen."

Hoylman-Sigal also sponsored the Fashion Act, which would limit the environmental impact of fashion waste and create a remediation fund. That bill has been referred to the Senate’s Consumer Protection Committee.

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Samantha joined the WAMC staff after interning during her final semester at the University at Albany. A Troy native, she looks forward to covering what matters most to those in her community. Aside from working, Samantha enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and cat. She can be reached by phone at (518)-465-5233 Ext. 211 or by email at ssimmons@wamc.org.