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Benefits Denied

Project Name: Freelancers Union
Challenge: Freelance workers lack healthcare and other benefits enjoyed by full-time employees.
Solution: Form a union through which freelancers can use their collective power for group purchasing of insurance and advocacy.
Update: The Freelancers Union continues to grow and has recently announced plans to start its own insurance company. Fed up with rapidly soaring premiums, the group's founder, Sara Horowitz, set up the Freelancers Insurance Company with the goal of offering a cheap system with good coverage.

Former labor lawyer Sara Horowitz founded an organization in 1995 to meet the needs of America's growing independent workforce. That organization grew into what is today known as the Freelancers Union. A national, nonprofit organization based in New York City, the Freelancers Union offers members benefits, resources and advocacy.

The number of freelance workers in the United States now stands at an estimated 30 percent of the entire workforce. As businesses try to cut costs and increase their flexibility, independent workers are becoming more common. These independent workers are known by many names: freelancers, consultants, independent contractors, temps, part-timers, contingent employees and the self-employed.

The Freelancers Union strives to build a safety net for America's independent workforce. While it does not engage in collective bargaining on behalf of its members like traditional unions, it meets other pressing needs. It offers members a menu of benefits including health coverage, dental insurance, disability and life insurance, with different fees charged depending on what a member wants or needs. The union now has 63,000 members across the country and offer life, disability, and dental insurance throughout the country, and health insurance in 31 states.

Because of its growth in membership and fees, the Freelancers Union is now almost entirely self-sustaining. The challenges ahead lay in finding solutions for the challenges facing members and instilling in them a sense that they're part of a social movement. Says Horowitz:

What's really important is that we think ahead. What is going to be the next safety net going forward? Business is making it clear what it needs, and the changes that it needs to grow. Workers now have to start saying, "In this mobile world, what do we need? What's our safety net going to look like?"

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