Why Can’t We Discuss Rates?

Today we are going to look into a very important question about why we cannot discuss rates on many Facebook pages and association forums like NCRA or NYSCRA. For the grizzled veterans, sit this one out, you know it.

Generally when a group of competitors comes together to educate the public or propose legislation, it can be considered a trade association. In stenography, many of us are considered freelancers. This means legally we are on the same level as agencies, and often it means we are direct competitors.

Then there are the antitrust laws which more or less say that direct competitors may not collude to fix prices. This means a group of freelancers can’t come together to say we will only work for agencies if they pay us this much. They can’t say oh the page rate should be XYZ. The only potential exception to this that I know of would be unionization, something the long defunct Federation of Shorthand Reporters tried to do, and something that they still faced antitrust flak for.

So when rates discussions happen, they often drift towards (example) oh hey, stenographers should make $4 original, $1 copy, or don’t work for less than $3.75 or whatever numbers you want to put in there. The question almost always comes out: What should we charge? The answer given is often: We can’t have that discussion here. And you see that wherever here is. Freelancers who run Facebook groups don’t allow it because they don’t want to be sued, and court reporter associations don’t allow it because they don’t want to be sued. We need them to fight for us, so we need to make sure they don’t get sued. Support associations and Facebook groups by making sure they don’t get sued!

And I understand the logic, “but an association is not a competitor, it’s an association!” I understand because I had that same thought. But no, ultimately, the law does or can view these associations as collectives of competitors, and they can face stiff penalties for violating antitrust law.

That said, there are a lot of ways to get market data out there. Perhaps associations can begin to put together a legal fund to get advice on what kind of data can and can’t be gathered or dispersed by an association. Historical data seems to be okay. But how historical? Perhaps members can seek out more experienced reporters and speak to them about the history of their regional market. Perhaps we can even put together a fundraiser for seeking legal advice on this topic to learn where the lines are.

You will see I often discuss rates around this site. That’s because as best I can tell I am no longer a direct competitor. Until the day I’m facing a lawsuit, and probably even after that, I’ll be discussing rates here and allowing discussion of rates here. Anything published with my name on it is from me as an individual. But here is an important reminder: If you are a freelancer and suggesting a rate or price fixing with fellow freelancers, you may be setting yourself up to get sued. Antitrust even applies if you are trying to fix prices downwards as a group of competitors, so you can’t come together and say: Hey, X would be the best rate for the consumer, let’s make it that everywhere. It’s my belief that official reporters who have no direct competition with agencies cannot be held liable under antitrust, but keep in mind that my knowledge is always evolving and my beliefs can be wrong.

Seek out a mentor. Learn the history. Learn the market. Be empowered and don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good way to learn the market is to just ask: Hey, are there any experienced reporters I can reach out to here? Most of all: Know why we can’t discuss rates, because then you can learn how to discuss rates and market forces like inflation legally.

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