A Union for Freelancers?
March 24, 2013 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Ms. Horowitz’s new mutualism is based on a simple premise: freelancers should band together to set up social-purpose institutions to serve their mutual needs. That, she says, would be far better than relying on corporations and private investors who might have different priorities, not to mention a desire for substantial profits. This idea, she acknowledges, is not new. But with the changing economy, the decline of organized labor, the end of paternalism among employers and the shrinking role of government, she says, the conditions are ripe for embracing mutual aid societies anew. “The social unionism of the 1920s had it right,” she says. “They said: ‘We serve workers 360 degrees. It’s not just about their work. It’s about their whole life.’ We view things the same way.”
posted by bookman117 (37 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
We're an online marketing shop in a city of 350,000 people. There's 5 of us, and at one point we had more staff than the oldest and most established "ad agency" in town... until it went out of business. The former staff there - mostly designers and old-style copywriters - went on to form a collective, nominally a flat organization that could leverage the skills of the different members (about 10 in all) according to the needs of the project, and they could bank on the brand of their former employer.

No idea how it's going for them, but, on the other hand, our 5-person agency keeps on keeping on, growing incrementally each year.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:14 PM on March 24, 2013


Health care alone is such a huge opening for the US union movement that it's shocking the Freelancers' Union hasn't taken off in an even bigger way, and I hope it will. But this sort of model has so many other fantastic possibilities besides that — it seems, for instance, like a natural model for writers, scholars, and teachers to band together outside the corporatized academy, or musicians and artists to arrange performance spaces, galleries, etc. It's not just about tradespeople's guilds: the same way the lending libraries of the 18th Century turned into the public libraries of a century later, we should be building cooperative institutions in the expectation that, once they're functional institutions, they can be nationalized and internationalized.
posted by RogerB at 12:22 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Guilds?
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:36 PM on March 24, 2013


Health care alone is such a huge opening for the US union movement that it's shocking the Freelancers' Union hasn't taken off in an even bigger way, and I hope it will.

In my experience, creatives tend toward extreme individualism and view themselves as special snowflakes whose personal excellence is the cause of their success. I'm not at all surprised that unionism doesn't take off among a group so wholly inculcated in the excellence of their individual selves. See also tech workers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:41 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


In my experience, creatives tend toward extreme individualism and view themselves as special snowflakes whose personal excellence is the cause of their success.

Well, the ones who intend to be freelancing might be, and their arrogance does drive me up a wall sometimes. The rest of us, the ones who ended-up freelancing because there was nowhere else to go, would kill for some sort of social support.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:51 PM on March 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


While being an independent worker allows certain advantages — you can go to yoga class or on vacation whenever you want — it also means economic vulnerability.
Maybe for some types of freelancers, but most of the ones I know and work with are in offices all week and are expected to be on time every day and NOT go off to yoga or vacation. Perhaps they are technically able to do this, but in reality they'd lose that job right quick. The economic vulnerability part still applies of course.
posted by zoinks at 12:52 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Health care alone is such a huge opening for the US union movement that it's shocking the Freelancers' Union hasn't taken off in an even bigger way, and I hope it will

Because this, for one thing.
posted by BWA at 12:58 PM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The best possible solution is that you pay taxes and healthcare is just there - it's simpler and cheaper for everyone.

Meanwhile in the UK the NHS is being dismantled so everyone is going to have to figure out what to do in a fucked US style healthcare system. Sigh...
posted by Artw at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


In my experience, creatives tend toward extreme individualism and view themselves as special snowflakes whose personal excellence is the cause of their success. I'm not at all surprised that unionism doesn't take off among a group so wholly inculcated in the excellence of their individual selves.

My experience could not be more opposite this.
posted by incessant at 1:04 PM on March 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


In my experience, creatives tend toward extreme individualism and view themselves as special snowflakes whose personal excellence is the cause of their success. I'm not at all surprised that unionism doesn't take off among a group so wholly inculcated in the excellence of their individual selves.
posted by Pope Guilty

My experience could not be more opposite this.
posted by incessant


Yeah, ditto. There's a few assholes in every bunch, but in general I've found that creatives can work very, very well together, especially when there's a shared interest that can further the whole group, a la big projects or health care.....
posted by nevercalm at 1:12 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the characterization of creative types as introverted narcissists is somewhat valid, but although unfair and myopic.

Organizing people to do stuff is hard (see "project management") especially when there is no compelling reason to do something (see "deadlines" and "deliverables").
posted by KokuRyu at 1:13 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because this, for one thing.
Ugh. Golden Rule.
A few years ago, when we were shopping for insurance, we looked at Golden Rule. We even went so far as to go through underwriting with them. They insisted that we pay estimated monthly premiums while underwriting was underway...which took two months...while we were still paying for the insurance we were trying to ditch. In the end, we found too many "gotchas" in the small print to make GR viable. Hopefully, they've improved their act since then.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:17 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


For those who can't see BWA's (location-dependent) link, it shows that a single New York resident can have the priviledge of paying $225 -$600 per month for health insurance through the freelancer's union. The $225/month plan has a $10,000 deductible plus 30% coinsurance. For a person with a spouse and child, the price range is $630-$1700/month. That's up to $20,000 a year before you've paid a single co-pay. It's not worse than other options for freelancers, but most freelancers just can't make it make sense.
posted by matcha action at 1:22 PM on March 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


In my experience, creatives tend toward extreme individualism and view themselves as special snowflakes
isn't that kind of a prereq for being a creative
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:41 PM on March 24, 2013


Matcha -- $13,000 a year for a high deductible (or $20,000 for low-deductible) family coverage is very much in the ballpark for what group coverage costs in New York. When you consider the serious adverse selection issues in any individual-issue market, those prices are attractive. $20/billable hour for a freelancer who bills 1,000 hours a year is pretty good.
posted by MattD at 2:30 PM on March 24, 2013


isn't that kind of a prereq for being a creative

Nope!
posted by phooky at 2:33 PM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can't see a union working when (1) the clearing rate for the work is near zero (people always want to be pop stars and work in publishing!) (2) you're not physically located according to the work, so you cannot control entrance to the place of work and intimidate scabs.
posted by alasdair at 2:38 PM on March 24, 2013


(2) you're not physically located according to the work, so you cannot control entrance to the place of work and intimidate scabs.

That didn't stop (or prevent success of) the Writer's strike, though obviously that's a very established guild.
posted by anonymisc at 2:45 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


When you consider the serious adverse selection issues in any individual-issue market, those prices are attractive.

Yep. I opted for Freelancers Union health insurance after looking at other options and finding out that coverage on the individual market in New York would have been more than $1,000 per month.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 2:47 PM on March 24, 2013


Ms. Horowitz’s grandfather was a vice president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and her father was a labor lawyer. So it was perhaps not surprising that she responded to her rising outrage by deciding to organize a union.

When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Why on Earth would independent contractors want collective bargaining? I guess for those who would rather be employees it would make sense, but I work as an independent contract precisely because I want to negotiate my own contracts as a free and independent person. I don't want to be an employee.

Being an employee sucks, being represented by a union that assumes you want to be a full time employee sucks even more. And the last thing I need is yet another hand in my pocket taking a cut of my wages.
posted by three blind mice at 2:47 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Why on Earth would independent contractors want collective bargaining? . . . And the last thing I need is yet another hand in my pocket taking a cut of my wages.

You're forgetting the part of the article where it says that the union doesn't bargain with employers and doesn't charge for membership.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 2:51 PM on March 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


Not sure I follow the hammer analogy - if no-one's wanting their pockets dipped in, no-one's being forced to join, right?
posted by ominous_paws at 3:05 PM on March 24, 2013


You're forgetting the part of the article where it says that the union doesn't bargain with employers and doesn't charge for membership.

Reading is hard, OK? Sheesh! Can't someone piss all over a simple idea of solidarity unionism with voluntary membership and fees?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:07 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Matcha -- $13,000 a year for a high deductible (or $20,000 for low-deductible) family coverage is very much in the ballpark for what group coverage costs in New York. When you consider the serious adverse selection issues in any individual-issue market, those prices are attractive. $20/billable hour for a freelancer who bills 1,000 hours a year is pretty good.
I am aware of this -- which is what I meant with "It's not worse than other options for freelancers". That doesn't mean that there's a way to make it work when you're billing at $35 or $40 per hour.
posted by matcha action at 3:19 PM on March 24, 2013


I started to type up a screed about the Freelancers Union insurance and then my iPad died and I lost it. Ugh.

Here's the short version: god help you if you actually need to use your FU health insurance. I good friend of mine nearly died in a motorcycle crash that wasn't his fault and he nearly had to hire a lawyer to get FU to cover his medical costs. The guy was doped up on pain killers and dealing with operations to save his leg and yet he was having to call daily to get his medical bills paid. It wasn't until he went to social media and shamed the FU did they start paying.

So yeah, good luck with those FU benefits.
posted by photoslob at 3:54 PM on March 24, 2013


So yeah, good luck with those FU benefits.

The clue would seem to be in the initials...

The day the UK ends up with a US style health system is the day I give up on the whole self-employment thing...
posted by titus-g at 4:16 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The freelancer's union insurance for me is actually more expensive. I like the idea of this new mutualist professional organization thing but if I'm going to have a shitty plan I'd rather not overpay for it.

In my creative field it is kind of solitary and you are on your own. I am a member of two professional organizations and the problem is not health insurance (they both offer comparable health plans, and have long before FU existed) but that they are effectively toothless in all the real ways a "union" is and I don't see how FU is doing anything different. The organizations I'm a member of are not even legally allowed to discuss rates, much less attempt to organize to raise them.
posted by bradbane at 4:20 PM on March 24, 2013


So yeah, good luck with those FU benefits.

Well, it's the most reasonable (price-wise) option for a lot of independent contractors (myself included) I know. I haven't had any issues with them paying up, but same time I haven't had to put it to the test, beyond standard doctor visits and a few prescriptions (knock on wood).
posted by fuzzypantalones at 4:24 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


freelancers should band together to set up social-purpose institutions to serve their mutual needs. That, she says, would be far better than relying on corporations and private investors who might have different priorities, not to mention a desire for substantial profits.

Everyone should just incorporate.

Who pays when they are sued? Who pays when one member sues another?
Who pays when one group of members sues another group of members?

Everyone should just incorporate. The form is useful, profit is your choice, paractically.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:26 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my experience, creatives

In my experience, any time someone uses the word creative as a noun, it makes me want to leverage a blunt object to jumpstart a kickoff meeting with their head in the hopes that humane and civilized grammar usage will go viral amongst their colleagues.
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:44 PM on March 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


>For those who can't see BWA's (location-dependent) link

Sorry if the link failed. My point was to show that if you were not in NY, you may not be able to get health insurance through the Freelancers Union at all. For reason I have never quite understood, American health insurance companies go state by state, and what is available in one is not necessarily available in another. Similarly, a health insurance company may underwrite a policy for a large company but refuse to take individuals at any price. Oh, it's ugly.
posted by BWA at 4:44 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sadly, here in LA, I can't get healthcare through this group, thanks to the ever vigilant Californnia Insurance overlords. That's the main reason I would be interested, because, nice as this group seems to be, they have almost nothing to offer a very seasoned freelancer, like me. I haven't had a staff job since 1980. I'll stick with the DGA, thanks.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:48 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh and just for the record--no one thinks that WGA's last strike was a success, least of all the members.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:50 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry if the link failed. My point was to show that if you were not in NY, you may not be able to get health insurance through the Freelancers Union at all.
Sorry for misunderstanding your point-- yes, the fact that it is available in such few areas is a big problem, as is the fact that many freelancers can't afford any of the plans, since insurance is so expensive in NY.
posted by matcha action at 4:56 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting article. It refers to Horowitz's "new mutualism"... But mutuals are cooperatives, run by their members. This article makes it sound like she makes the ultimate decisions based on feedback and "intuition".
posted by chapps at 5:31 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


isn't that kind of a prereq for being a creative

You're thinking of "prima donna".
posted by mhoye at 5:55 PM on March 24, 2013


Good step in the right direction, I'd say, and from the article's description, a very successful one. As someone who's done independent contracting in the past in several positions, I wish I'd known about this. So good on Horowitz.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:14 PM on March 24, 2013


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