All Work No Pay

Why freelancing is more precarious than ever

The Pitch: Why it never ends

For a year and a half, Aidan Johnston spent his Sunday nights prepping a weekly barrage of pitches to editors at Vice, Now Magazine, Nylon, and others. He bar-tended Wednesday nights at a Parkdale restaurant and freelanced the rest of his week away. Those were long days. “Like, nine to midnight, just to fit it all in,” he recalls. “I had the energy for it. But it was just so jumbled, and it was hard to make plans all the time.”

The Sweat: Why you’ll never be paid enough

When Matthew Braga quit his job as Motherboard Canada’s editor in January 2016, he’d already done a stint at the Financial Post, contributed semi-regularly to The Globe and Mail since his j-school days, and even landed a National Magazine Award nomination for his Ryerson Review of Journalism profile of Adam Gopnik in 2012. For 10 months, he wrote about everything from the questionable viability of undersea drones (for Bloomberg Businessweek) to ReBoot’s prediction of the rise of CGI-TV shows (for BuzzFeed), and went on CBC as a paid tech commentator — and made a total of just over $30,000. “Pre-tax,” he adds.

The Momentum: When it’s easier to get more

“This is the way freelancing works,” says John Lorinc, leaning forward in a chair at one of his work haunts: a Starbucks around the corner from his midtown Toronto home. “If you ever find yourself in the position of being a freelancer, the most important thing is to deliver good first drafts, well reported.” He continues: Don’t fight editors. Show up for fact-checking. (“If they still do fact-checking, right?”) Say yes to absolutely every assignment. Be useful.

The Unions: Why their hands are tied

Last June, one of the longest organizing campaigns of Karen Wirsig’s CMG career came to fruition. After six months, roughly two-thirds of 120 Vice Canada employees voted yes to a union. Unfortunately, not one of them is a freelancer. “We did exclude casual employees,” the staff organizer says — referring to short-term contract or free- lance workers — “because part of the problem for organizing a union under current labour law is you need to have a majority of the unit.” Labour organizers and those who cover their efforts insist that improving the lot of freelancers requires them to band together and pressure employers in much the same way that unions do. “The ability to collectively bargain is the most important thing that freelancers can do,” says Salamon. Except they can’t: freelancers, as self-employed individuals, negotiate their contracts one-on-one without an intermediary.



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Reporter, Toronto Star and elsewhere. Keen to cover precarious work + housing. Tell me about your day.