Freelancers Union is a non-profit organization in the United States of America. The organization provides advocacy and health insurance to its members through its for-profit Freelancers Insurance Company. The union promotes information through monthly meetings and information on its website.
Membership in Freelancers Union is more than 200,000 nationwide, with more than half in New York state. This includes people who work as freelancers, consultants, independent contractors, temps, part-timers, contingent employees and who are otherwise self-employed, a segment of workers that makes up one-third of the American workforce.
Nearly 25,000 people purchase insurance through the organization's Freelancers Insurance Company.
Because they are employed in nontraditional arrangements, independent workers don't have access to employer-based health care insurance. To address this, Working Today, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, launched Freelancers Union in 2001. Sara Horowitz founded Working Today in New York City in 1995, in order to represent the needs and concerns of the growing independent workforce. Before founding Working Today – Freelancers Union, Horowitz was a labor law attorney in private practice and a union organizer.[where?]
Freelancers Union has created a portable benefits delivery system, linking benefits to individuals rather than to employers, so independent workers can maintain benefits as they move from job to job and project to project.
The organization also tries to increase the visibility of independent workers, bringing issues that concern freelancers to the attention of media and policy makers. From tax relief (independent workers bear a greater tax burden than traditional employees) to unemployment and worker’s compensation, Freelancers Union advocates for legal reform on these issues. Freelancers Union also provides its members with online tools, business management information, networking opportunities, group discount terms with various vendors or partners, and other assistance in working successfully as independents. Membership is free of charge, as is members' access to the Union's meetings, tools and basic information. Members pay fees for certain events, seminars and other services, as well as premiums if they elect to buy health insurance through the Union.
Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union founder, does not believe in a Canadian-style single-payer health care system, she said on WNYC's radio program, the Brian Lehrer show.[why?] She believes that individuals should be able to buy insurance through groups like the Freelancers Union that would give them bargaining power with insurance companies. They should get assistance through vouchers or a refundable tax credit if they cannot afford it, such insists.
Under federal labor laws, the Freelancers Union cannot engage in collective bargaining over wages or working conditions because it is not a certified union. The entertainment unions can today, because they were grandfathered in. Collective bargaining is a "moment in history", as Horowitz told Lehrer. Judging by listener phone calls, Lehrer suggested that the biggest problem freelancers had with the Freelancers Union (at the time, in 2007) was that they could not meet the organization's definition of freelancer, which requires that they work at least 20 hours a week in one of seven industries typically associated with independent workers.
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In recognition of her efforts to create a self-sustaining organization of flexible workers, Horowitz was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship ("genius" grant) in 1999. In 2002, she was named as one of Esquire Magazine’s "Fifty Best & Brightest" and received a community development award from the New York Mayor’s Office.
Portable Benefits Network
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Freelancers Union offers health insurance as a non-profit health insurance brokerage. In 2001, it created an infrastructure platform known as the Portable Benefits Network (PBN) which provides health insurance to independent workers at less than half the price of average HMO premiums in the individual market in New York City, and also offers life and disability insurance, financial services, resources, and discounts. As of June 2006, nearly 12,000 independent workers receive benefits through the PBN and several thousand more advocacy members have registered to support its mission. In 2008, it replaced PBN with the Freelancers Insurance Company (a wholly owned for-profit company) to offer insurance to its members.
With the PBN platform in place, the organization is expanding to become a full service association for the independent workforce. In August 2006, Freelancers Union launched a web portal with new services available to freelancers that includes job postings, message boards, and member profiles.
Some traditional unionists say that Freelancers Union is an association, not a union, that will not be able to achieve significant gains for workers. Freelancers Union doesn't negotiate contracts with employers, or represent freelancers when they have grievances. Freelancers have no employee bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
The cost of selling individual insurance requires more overhead than group insurance. "Policies that provide the exact same coverage to someone working for a large employer will cost more for an individual," says the Center for American Progress's website for college students. "Even worse, insurers can pick and choose preexisting conditions and then deny coverage for those deemed too costly to cover." A Center for American Progress fellow estimated the average difference in administrative costs alone was $300 per year between individual and group insurance. The Freelancers Union acknowledges those problems with the open market, but asserts that its large-group bargaining power, its captive insurance company's obligation to grant coverage, and its non-profit marketing role all serve as effective remedies.
In January 2008, Freelancers Union was criticized by both its members and the press when its new Freelancers Insurance Company became the entity providing coverage to members. At that time, the Union dropped Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield in favor of a range of new options, mostly more expensive, with Anthem BC/BS remaining only as claims processing agent. Members then faced the complexity inherent in comparing the limits, exclusions, co-payments, co-insurance percentages, and annual and other deductibles of the various new options with those of the old plans. Through this process, some members were even inadvertently dropped altogether.
- Freelancers Union website, Advocacy: Monthly Member Meetings
- Freelancers Union website, Resources for Freelancers: Tips, tricks, and tools
- Greenhouse, Steven (March 24, 2013). "Tackling Concerns of Independent Workers". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 Nov 2014.
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- Laskow, Sarah (1 Oct 2014). "Freelancers insurance evolves, again (and again)". www.capitalnewyork.com. Retrieved 30 Nov 2014.
- "The New "U"". WNYC. Retrieved 2011-11-21.
- Seth Stevenson (January 28, 2012). "Don’t Have Health Insurance? Start Your Own Insurance Company! How Sara Horowitz created affordable health care benefits for freelancers.". Slate.com.
- Tackling Concerns of Independent Workers, By Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, March 23, 2013
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