TV channel ONE World Sports furloughed many staff employees back in November, and sources indicated at that time that they hadn’t paid many staff and owed freelancers massive amounts of money. Since then, debts to staff were reportedly settled (update: Awful Announcing has since heard that some former staff are still owed money, and that there are federal and state investigations ongoing into how OWS treated employees, especially with reference to late pay and use of 401k funds), but hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to freelancers and production companies remained unpaid in March even after certain OWS distribution assets were sold to Eleven Sports; Eleven Sports has since made it clear they didn’t acquire OWS’ debts. Many of those owed money have now taken legal action against OWS and parent company ONE Media Corporation.
Awful Announcing has seen some of the court filings involved, and they indicate that OWS and/or OMC are being sued in separate cases by several different freelancers and at least one production company, with the lawsuits estimated to total between $200,000 and $300,000. The largest claim appears to be from production company Linacre Media; Jason Dachman of Sports Video Group has more on that, and on some of the other OWS debts:
OWS still owes producers, directors, graphics producers, engineers, on-air talent, and others for work on New York Cosmos and other NASL soccer games, Ivy League football games, and other productions in 2016.
…Multiple lawsuits have been filed against OWS regarding unpaid wages, including one by Linacre Media, which is owed more than $170,000 for producing eight Ivy League football games last fall (as part of a 10-game package, two of which were produced by Harvard Athletics’ video team).
According to a source, OWS also owes outstanding fees to multiple rights partners, including IMG and the Ivy League.
According to the court filings Awful Announcing has seen, OWS has less than a month to answer some of these claims or risk default judgements entered against them. However, even if default judgments are entered, there may still be challenges for freelancers in getting their money, especially as the company’s response recently has been that they don’t have enough money to pay their debts. (They don’t appear to have formally declared bankruptcy yet, but that may be coming.)
There may wind up being a fight over who can claim what from OWS’ remaining assets, and it may take years before those involved see anything. A freelancer owed money told Awful Announcing they believe OWS deliberately settled claims from staffers and not freelancers because of the lower legal protection for non-employees and the barriers to freelancers successfully suing:
“I believe ONE World Sports (OWS) and their owner ONE Media Corp, are exploiting a hole in the U.S. legal system, where there is no protection from any local, state or federal agency for freelancers/independent contractors, when an employer refuses to pay their wages for work or services performed in good faith.”
“ONE World Sports executives, like CEO Alexander “Sandy” Brown and CFO Ricardo Venegas, are savvy. They know this, and are using this to OWS’ advantage, to avoid ever paying freelancers/independent contractors, because they know freelance workers can’t file wage claims with any agency.”
“ONE World Sports execs know that freelance workers are provided no protection by the National Labor Relations Board, the (State) Dept. of Labor, the (State) Secretary of State, (State) Consumer Protection Agency, and the (State) Attorney General. ONE World Sports eventually paid all of their staff employees, because they had to. Some filed wage claims against OWS with the CT Dept of Labor. ONE World Sports was required to pay their staffers, by law.”
“Sadly, ONE World Sports is not mandated by any agency to pay freelancers. A freelancer’s only option is to sue ONE World Sports, and the OWS execs know many claims are $4000 – $7000, and not worth retaining a lawyer to pursue because lawyer fees will be more than the return.”
“ONE World Sports executives also know most freelancers will give up, and then the ‘little guy’ who worked hard for his money, who has a family to support, bills to pay and perhaps their child’s or children’s college to pay for, will never see the money he or she worked hard for, and in good faith, and the rich ONE World Sports executives will, in a sense, ‘pocket the money’, they did not have to pay out, which in this case is a combined total between $200,000 and $300,000, and bring it back to their Connecticut mansions.”
The source also said they hope this situation leads to legislators reevaluating protections for freelancers:
“First, justice must prevail over ONE World Sports and freelancers must finally be paid their wages from work that began, for some, in March 2016.”
“Second, legislators in local, state, and federal governments, must examine this situation, that spotlighted the hole in the U.S. legal system, and finally afford freelance workers protection from companies like ONE World Sports, when they refuse to pay them for work performed in good faith, so history will not repeat itself and some good can come from this long and drawn-out ordeal.”
The last points there are interesting, and they illustrate why this case may wind up being important for even journalists with no connection to ONE World Sports. Many media outlets are utilizing more and more freelancers rather than full-time employees, and that can carry plenty of challenges. The ONE World Sports situation shows that those challenges can even extend to getting paid, especially if the company runs into financial trouble. But with so much of the economy shifting to freelance and contract work (and doing so in many sectors beyond media), there may eventually be some momentum for more legal protections for freelancers. This ONE World Sports case will be worth watching in the days; there’s a lot at stake for the people owed money, but there are potential broader implications for other freelancers as well.