From Runway To Picket Line

PICTURE IT: FASHION MODELS marching in a picket line. Yes, in an industry where top names can make up to $10,000 a day for a mega-event, a movement to organize is afoot. Why? Far below the Cindy Crawfords and Claudia Schiffers are models working for as little as $60 a day. Many fall victim to fly-by-night agencies who cheat them out of wages and sleazy photographers who charge big bucks for portfolio shots that look about as professional as something their kid brother could have taken with a disposable.

Young models "are desperate for help," says Ami Bongay, a former model who in July chartered the Model's Guild, a branch of the 13.3-million member Office & Professional Employees International Union. The Model's Guild, which claims 500 people want to sign up, hasn't officially organized anyone or started negotiations with employers yet. Famous models aren't clamoring to join. But the nascent union has gotten backing from former supermodel Beverly Johnson, who in 1974 became the first African American to grace the cover of Vogue.

For most, modeling is a chaotic, unregulated business. The new union, asking for dues of $25 to $45 per year, aims to demand such benefits as health insurance and to set industry pay standards. The union has a lot of skeptics. Says one agency executive: "The fashion industry is such a catty, fickle world. Models don't want to antagonize anyone."

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