Front page top half of the Sunday March 24 New York Times business section features a lengthy article on the Freelancers Union, a Brooklyn, New York based 501 (c) (3) organization that benefits Freelancers. The organization was founded in 2001 by Sara Horowitz, a New York City labor law attorney who 20 years ago was hired into a Manhattan law firm as a contract worker and found aspects of the experience unsettling. There was a precursor group Horowitz founded in 1995, Working Today.
The Freelancers Union is not a certified union, but an association of independent workers, from screenwriters to management consultants to nannies, that promotes the interests of Freelancers. It has no collective bargaining power, does not negotiate contracts and does not represent members in grievances. If a client stiffs you on an invoice, the Freelancers Union will not go to bat and help you collect. Members pay no dues or membership fee.
Freelancers Union keeps issues of concern to Freelancers alive in the media, as a strategy to impact government policies that benefit us. The group advocates for legal reform on worker’s compensation, unemployment benefits and tax relief (our taxes are higher, as you know), areas in which we are vulnerable. In 2009, the group successfully persuaded New York City to eliminate the unincorporated business tax levied on Freelancers who earn less than $100,000, a saving of up to $3,400/year.
An internal Freelancers Union survey found that 58% of its members earn less than $50, 000/year and 29% earn less than $25,000/ year. Bear in mind that most members reside in Metro New York City and pay rates are usually higher there than in other areas of the country. Also, some prefer to work part-time and that limits earning potential.
In the March 24 article, there were questions about the practical value of Freelancers Union beyond the delivery of health insurance. Gordon Lafer, professor of labor relations at University of Oregon said, “The question is, can they get any leverage to get a fair shake from employers, to get companies to give a fair share of their profits to Freelancers? They may need to be more creative to do that.”
Still, Freelancers Union is a fast-growing group that has 207,000+ members and more than 50% live and work in New York state. The website states that there are 42 million independent and part-time workers in this country, workers who are not eligible for benefits of any kind. In response, the Freelancers Union’s primary deliverable is providing affordable insurance through its for-profit insurance company: medical, dental, disability, retirement and life insurance policies. Unfortunately, not every form of insurance is available in every state. I cannot at this time obtain medical insurance in my state, but all other forms offered are available.
Its health insurance company has enrolled 23,000 Freelancers in New York state. Premiums are $225.00 – $600.00/month. The Obama administration recently awarded Freelancers Union $340 million in low-interest loans to help the organization establish in New York, New Jersey and Oregon cooperatives that will provide health insurance to Freelancers and others who need coverage.
For Sara Horowitz, the goal is to persuade Freelancers to band together and set up social purpose institutions that serve our mutual needs. “The social unionism of the 1920’s had it right”, she stated in the March 24 New York Times article. “They said: we serve workers 360 degrees. It’s not just about their work. It’s about their whole life. We (Freelancers Union) view things the same way.” See http://freelancersunion.org for more info.
Thanks for reading,