Labor & Employment

Lawyer formed Freelancers Union after law firm refused to classify her as an employee

Sara Horowitz learned about the downside of working as an independent contractor when she went to work for a Manhattan law firm nearly 20 years ago.

Horowitz was shocked to learn the firm was hiring her as an independent contractor rather than an employee, the New York Times reports. That meant she would not be covered by health insurance, could not participate in the pension plan and would not be paid for time off.

She responded by forming the Freelancers Union, a group that doesn’t negotiate with employers or charge union dues. But the union does provide health insurance for members, covering 23,000 workers in New York State. And it does provide a free health clinic in Brooklyn for members who signed up with the Freelancers Insurance Company.

The union’s 200,000 members include lawyers, writers, nannies, consultants, accountants and website designers.

Horowitz created the Freelancers Insurance Company with $7 million in grants and $10 million in loans from the Rockefeller Foundation and others, the story explains. The union also recently received $340 million in low interest loans from the Obama administration to set up cooperatives in New York, New Jersey and Oregon to provide health insurance coverage to freelancers and other workers.

Horowitz endorses an idea known as “new mutualism” in which people banding together set up social service institutions for their needs. “The social unionism of the 1920s had it right,” she told the Times. “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.”

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