Supporting freelance workers: A policy agenda from Sara Horowitz

I just learned that today is International Freelancers Day, thanks to a piece posted to The Atlantic by Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancers Union, an advocacy group supporting America’s independent workers.

Horowitz takes this opportunity to remind us that freelance workers often fall between the cracks of existing public benefit safety net programs and employment protections.

A three-part agenda

Horowitz cites this cluster of policy priorities to help freelancers:

Independent workers need (1) unemployment insurance to stabilize their income – and the U.S. economy – when they are involuntarily unemployed; (2) protection from late or denied payments, which 77% of freelancers have faced; and (3) access to affordable health insurance, which is prohibitively expensive to an individual on the open market.

No brainer, right?

On the face of it, this is hardly an overreaching wish list.  Any worker would want such safeguards. But as Horowitz writes:

Despite the fact that close to one-third of the country’s workforce is comprised of independent workers, this sizeable chunk of our economy has none of the protections and benefits that “traditional” employees have. Health insurance? No. Unemployment insurance? Nope. Protection from unpaid wages, or race, gender, or age discrimination? Not a chance.

That’s 42 million workers

According to Horowitz and the Freelancers Union, some 42 million people may be classified as freelance or independent workers, representing roughly 30 percent of the American workforce.

This labor sector has grown significantly over the past three decades. However, existing employment protections and public benefit programs often require that someone be a traditional employee — i.e., someone who works for someone else and is on a standard payroll — in order to be covered.

Much more to say

In almost two years of hosting this blog, I haven’t paid sufficient attention to the freelance sector of the labor force. This will change. The more I look at the shortcomings of traditional organizations, the more I am convinced that non-standard work arrangements — including freelance and independent work — are among the options that can rescue people from the stressors of institutional life.

Right now, however, these routes are not a panacea, as the existence of the Freelancers Union makes clear. But for many people, an independent workstyle offers the promise of more control, freedom, and opportunity. This definitely makes it a path worth exploring and supporting.

5 responses

  1. Thanks for posting this, David. As an American who left the traditional workforce after being bullied there, I chose freelancing as an avenue for work. I am fortunate that I am covered on my wife’s healthcare plan, but otherwise, I do face the issues you identified. I have been jilted by the unemployment system during harder times and I have had clients that refused to pay for no good reason. Even though I do not have to deal with a bully-boss at this point, the path I have chosen is not without its stressors. At times, OI do send out resumes and fill out applications in order to return to the traditional work sector, but I usually only garner temporary employment or work that is far below my acquired skills. So then I find myself back in the freelancer world. It is a hard circle to go around at times, but hopefully, as I build my reputation, I will make the freelance avenue work for me. It is a godsend to be able to set my own hours, take work that matches my skills and set my own agenda (to some extent) for how that work is completed by my clients’ deadlines. Again – thank you for the attention you have brought to this matter! Drew

    • Drew, thanks for this comment. As I allude to in the post (but will make clearer in future posts), I think the freelance/independent route offers a viable alternative to those who have found the standard-brand workplace to be inhospitable for various reasons, including bullying. But yes, all these challenges arise. Our labor policies and protections were not designed with the independent worker in mind, so definitely there’s a need for changes.

  2. Pingback: Websites of the Week: Freelancers Union and YES! magazine « Minding the Workplace

  3. just came across your blog. yes, freelancers are growing force within the labor market. i’ve been a member (free sign-up) with the freelancers union for the past 4 years. need to expand its depth and presence in more states. David, where are you based?

    i look forward to more posts here about us. oh, and add the Join Freelancers Union button to your blog template.

  4. Pingback: Meet Professor David Yamada, Suffolk University Law School Professor, and host of the Minding the Workplace blog, from The New Workplace Institute. | Workspace Practices

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