Freelancers Union

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= Freelancers Union is a non-profit organization in the United States that represents the needs and concerns of the independent workforce through advocacy, information, and service. [1]



1. By Anya Kamenetz:

"For the past year I have been working with an organization that points the way toward a new future of mutual benefit. Sara Horowitz was raised in the traditional left – her grandfather was vice president of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union, and she and her father were both labor lawyers. But she grew impatient with the old categories and old ways of thinking. In 1995 she founded Working Today, now known as the Freelancers Union. She won a 1999 MacArthur Genius Grant for her work with the organization, which was conceived as the first step toward a "New New Deal," or new social safety net, that fits the way Americans live and work today. They currently have 52,000 members and provide health care at group rates to 17,000 freelancers in New York City. Freelancers Union members are also eligible for life, dental, and disability insurance, discounts, and connect online to exchange referrals, tricks of the trade and job opportunities. They are beginning to have meet-ups nationwide to encourage political participation and the all-important value of fellowship. Currently the Freelancers Union is expanding health insurance to members in 30 states. Plans for providing more benefits like unemployment and retirement are underway." (

2. From the Wikipedia:

"Freelancers Union provides benefits and advocacy for independent workers. Membership in Freelancers Union is more than 80,000 in New York with more than 140,000 nationwide. This includes the freelancers, consultants, independent contractors, temps, part-timers, contingent employees and the self-employed that make up one-third of the American workforce. Because they are employed in nontraditional arrangements, these independent workers do not have access to employer-based insurance. Therefore, Working Today, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, launched Freelancers Union in 2001. 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 social safety net that followed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal consisted of employer-based benefits, most crucially health and disability insurance and savings for retirement. That system does not meet the needs of the freelance workforce. Freelancers Union aims to provide a new, flexible safety net, by linking benefits to the individual rather than to the employer.

In addition to providing a flexible safety net in the form of portable benefits, the Union tries increase the visibility of independent worker, 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.

Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancers Union, does not believe in a Canadian-style single-payer health care system, she said on WNYC's radio program, the Brian Lehrer show. Individuals should be able to buy insurance through groups like the Freelancers Union that would give them bargaining power against insurance companies, she said. They should get assistance through vouchers or a refundable tax credit if they can't afford it.

Under the labor laws, the Freelancers Union can't engage in collective bargaining over wages or working conditions, said Horowitz. The entertainment unions can today, because they were grandfathered in. But collective bargaining was a "moment in history", she told Lehrer. Lehrer said that, judging by listener phone calls, the biggest problem freelancers had with the Freelancers Union was that they couldn't meet the Union's definition of freelancer, which requires that they work at least 20 hours a week in one of seven industries." (


Atossa Araxia Abrahamian:

"Their slogans combine squishy ideals of teamwork, justice, and co-operation—”Organize and Mobilize”; “Working for the Radical Notion of Fairness”—with a Generation Y self-centeredness: “There’s an I in Union.” The target demographic of these ads is the penurious creative class—the educated, diverse, gay-friendly subjects of business guru Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class. The concerns they convey, and the lifestyle they advertise, are tailored for those who do not partake in the suit-wearing, office-working, boss-having side of American life.

The FU rhetoric—not to mention the look and feel of its PR campaign—is, in turn, a far cry from the language of organized labor’s past. In fact, the FU is unafraid, and even proud, of its members’ individualism. “Maybe joining a group to buy health insurance is communal. Maybe it’s rational self-interest. Either way, it’s cheaper,” reads one poster. “Working together turns individual kvetching into collective problem solving,” reads another. With a post-political, pragmatic message and the promise of affordable, decent group health insurance, the Freelancers Union says its mission is to unite contractors, part-timers, and other nonpermanent employees in order to become recognized as a legitimate and distinct constituency. According to FU literature, the goal is to “build a new social support system that makes sense now and two generations from now.”

The idea of a union for freelancers is seductive, particularly for a group of people whose livelihood often depends on the whims of their clients and whose existence the government has all but ignored in its conversation about jobs. It’s also a big draw for uninsured workers who cannot afford to pay for individual health plans and for unemployed people trying to cobble together a living.


Anyone can join the union for free—that is, receive e-mails and some discounts. But to be eligible for health insurance you have to have earned $10,000 in the past six months or prove that you’ve worked twenty days in the past eight weeks. Not all professions are eligible: the list includes predominantly white-collar or “knowledge” workers, such as media, publishing, design, and tech as well as domestic and health care workers. Horowitz says that 55 percent of the FU’s members are under the age of forty, with an equal balance of men and women. Other benefits include dental, life, and disability insurance; a freelancers’ retirement plan (without matching contributions); and a registry for freelancers to advertise their services. Until recently, the FU bought insurance for its members at group rates from other Blue Cross Blue Shield providers. But in 2009, it started its own insurance company, the Freelancers Insurance Company. This organization, which is a fully owned for-profit subsidiary of the FU, is classified as a Certified B corporation, which means it must prove itself to be environmentally and socially responsible. The company was started with $17 million in grants and loans from the Ford Foundation, NYC Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Prudential. Its board consists of creative and finance professionals, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit executives." (

Background on the founder, Sara Horowitz

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian:

"In the early nineties, a University of Buffalo law school graduate named Sara Horowitz was working as an attorney at what she describes as a “radical progressive” law firm. Shortly after starting her job, she found out that she had been misclassified as an independent worker instead of an employee and was excluded from receiving benefits like health care and retirement funds.

When Horowitz realized this was also happening to workers at the National Health and Human Services Employees Union, where she later took a job, she started to think about solutions for some of the problems that come with contingent and precarious work.

A self-professed social entrepreneur in her early forties, more behind-the-scenes strategist than charismatic labor leader, Horowitz comes from a labor background. Her father was a labor lawyer, her grandfather was a vice president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and she’d worked for unions her whole adult life. She has degrees from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Harvard’s Kennedy School and is adamant about having “no problems” with traditional unions. But she envisions a future where the very structures that allow labor unions to function will no longer exist.

Horowitz began to expand upon her ideas about how to organize a dispersed workforce in the late nineties, and founded Working Today, an organization that aimed to help meet the needs of independent workers. She won fellowships with Echoing Green, a New York-based nonprofit, and, most notably, the MacArthur Foundation, which awarded her a “Genius Grant” in 1999. In 2001, Working Today launched its Portable Benefits Network, which provided insurance at group rates to freelancers. The PBN later became the basis for the Freelancers Union.

Offering affordable insurance to freelancers, says Horowitz, served two functions: a social one, which was to provide a much-needed benefit, but also a promotional one: freelancers were drawn to the idea like bees to honey (incidentally, the FU’s logo is a beehive) and became more likely to take an active role in the organization itself. The use of the Internet and social networks to bring in members, says Horowitz, was key (after all, there is no hiring hall). So was appealing to their specific sensibilities. Horowitz noticed that freelancers were people who “wouldn’t respond well to opportunities to ‘meet’ with their elected official or co-members, but were more than happy to come and ‘network,’ because that’s what freelancers do.”

How to build a collective identity wasn’t clearcut either. “Many of our members manage twelve identities in their lives,” says Horowitz, referring to the part-time- writer-chef-mom-yoga instructor phenomenon. “Being a freelancer is just one of them. And we have to accommodate that.” (

Background on its 'union-like' activities

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian:

"A traditional union that’s governed by the National Labor Relations Act is classified as a (C)5, which allows it to engage in collective bargaining. The FU, on the other hand, is a 501(C)4 organization, which means it is essentially a not-for-profit advocacy group.

Horowitz doesn’t think that lack of collective bargaining or even the ability to strike affects the FU’s constituents or clout. The union has formed federal and state political action committees, and its negotiations, at least in New York, have been successful: with Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s help, the FU helped pass reforms to the NYC Unincorporated Business Tax in 2009, which eliminated double-taxation (business and personal revenue tax) for freelancers earning less than $100,000 and gave a tax credit to those earning up to $150,000. The group also lobbied for independent workers rights to group together to buy health insurance and helped draft legislation for wage-and-hour protections for contingent workers.

Recently, Bloomberg supported a Freelancers Union-initiated plan to create a tax benefit for contributing to a common unemployment fund and pledged to help freelancers find better working spaces in an attempt to “start leveling the playing field.” It will come as no surprise that the organization supported Bloomberg’s run for a third term in 2009. Horowitz personally campaigned for him.

Much like Bloomberg himself, the Freelancers Union shies away from ideological or political labels. Even though the defining sentiment of the Occupy Wall Street movement—that middle-class Americans lead a precarious and needlessly unstable existence—is very much in line with the FU’s, and, in fact, is the reason many members sign up for the FU to begin with, the FU has not endorsed the OWS movement.

“I always thought of the FU as more entrepreneurial…than political” says Horowitz. “Today’s Left is not the Left we’re going to see in ten years. [Right now] new ideas aren’t allowed to flourish accordingly. The Left is very constrained intellectually.”

“We’re progressive, but not part of the Left,” she adds, referring to partisan political membership.

Horowitz speaks about the FU as an example of the “new mutualism,” which the FU defines as “the belief that political and economic life flourishes in social networks, and that social change requires individuals to shift their thinking from ‘I’ to ‘we.’” The online craft shop Etsy, the growing popularity of community-supported agriculture programs, and services like Zipcar are all examples of this “sharing” culture to which Horowitz subscribes. Buying insurance at lower rates for a self-selected group of freelancers is in line with this ethos. But how much of this “we” is truly inclusive? How much social change can come about through what are essentially buying clubs? Can “we” share with—or even acknowledge—”them”?" (

More Information

  1. Mutual Aid Societies
  2. Open Source Unionism