Photo: Christina Emilie
Rafael Espinal, a Brooklyn native and the son of Dominican immigrants, holds the title of Executive Director at the Freelancers Union. At the young age of 26, Espinal made his mark in New York politics as the youngest elected official when he joined the State Assembly. His roles have since amplified, advocating tirelessly for workers, small businesses, artists, the environment, and low-income communities.
Espinal's advocacy work transcends industries, but his dedication to freelancers is particularly noteworthy. As a New York City Council member in 2016, he co-sponsored and supported the groundbreaking Freelance Isn't Free legislation, equipping freelancers with unparalleled protection against nonpayment and late payment. Further championing independent worker rights, he co-sponsored a bill in 2019 to extend anti-harassment and discrimination protections under the City’s Human Rights Law to independent workers.
Espinal's notable contributions include the co-sponsorship of the 2019 "Right to Disconnect" bill, granting workers the right to disconnect from electronic communications outside business hours. As the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing, Espinal played a pivotal role in successfully implementing NYC's Paid Sick Leave Law.
Espinal's knack for negotiation is also evident in his securing of a $250 million comprehensive investment plan for his district, one of New York’s most underserved. His exceptional work was recognized by The New York Times Editorial Board, stating, “In a 51-member body, Mr. Espinal has been a standout.” Time Out magazine also dubbed him a New Yorker of the Year in 2017, applauding his successful efforts in repealing the discriminatory "no dancing" Cabaret Law and establishing the new Office of Nightlife.
Equipped with a degree in English from Queens College and experience as an adult literacy teacher and chief of staff for a NYC Councilmember, Espinal brings a rich background to his role at Freelancers Union. In his short tenure, he has already lead freelancers through one of the biggest financial crisis they've experienced in modern history, the COVID-19 Pandemic. With his experience, he successfully advocated for freelancers to be included in the creation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, and advocated for PPP loans to be made available to all independent workers. As only the third leader since its inception in 1995, he is committed to engaging with freelancers across the nation, giving voice to their concerns, influencing critical policy debates, and relentlessly working towards a strengthened and expansive movement that serves a wide array of independent workers in a rapidly evolving economy.