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In Search of Safety Net, Freelancers Form Union

A former labor lawyer has organized freelancers into a union that offers affordable health insurance and other benefits. Spencer Michels continues his reporting on people hard hit by the economic downturn.

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    Now, another in our series of stories about people hard hit by hard times. Tonight, the story of freelancers in search of a safety net. NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports.

    SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour correspondent: Jaime Hazan designs Web sites for the United Nations and is a portrait photographer. Jeff Hinton does post-production sound-mixing. Jared Levy is a cameraman, editor and documentarian.

    All these self-employed workers have one thing in common: They need health insurance in order to stay freelancers in their fields. Levy, a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University, is taking a different path than many of his classmates. He is pursuing his passion.

    JARED LEVY, freelance cameraman/editor: In the beginning, I had to win over my parents, in the sense of my dad's a lawyer and my mom is a speech pathologist. The hammer started coming down on, "You need to get a salary job, because you need the benefits that come with a salary job, and that's the bottom line."


    In order to get those benefits, Levy, along with more than 100,000 other independent workers, joined the Freelancers Union.

    But it is not your typical union. Unlike other fledging trade unions, it does not negotiate salaries nor retirement benefits and thus has not met resistance from employers. What it does do is provide contract workers the support they need to be self-employed, most importantly, health insurance.


    I checked it online. And it was like — my jaw dropped, because I didn't realize it was the biggest burden off my shoulders, period, because it finally allowed me to do what I wanted to do, plain and simple.

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