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PORTSIDE  October 2012, Week 4

PORTSIDE October 2012, Week 4

Subject:

Sara Horowitz: Labor's Renaissance Woman

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Date:

Wed, 24 Oct 2012 21:56:21 -0400

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Sara Horowitz: Labor's Renaissance Woman

By Adam Bluestein 
Fast Company 
October 14, 2012
http://www.fastcompany.com/3002367/sara-horowitz-labors-renaissance-woman

Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancers Union, is
building the support system for a new generation of
independent workers. Oh, and a bricks-and-mortar
medical center.

Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of the
Freelancers Union, has been earning kudos for over a
decade, winning a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant”
in 1999 and being named one of Forbes' Top 30 Social
Entrepreneurs of 2011. Horowitz has labor in her
blood--her father was a labor lawyer, and she herself
has represented labor interests as an attorney in
private practice and as a union organizer with the
National Health and Human Service Employees Union.
Today she is focused on advocating for a new, and
increasingly important, group of workers--the roughly
42 million Americans who make a living as freelancers.
By offering discounted group benefits, including
medical, dental, and disability insurance, and
advocating for freelancer-friendly government policy at
the state and federal levels, the Freelancers Union has
grown to nearly 200,000 members since Horowitz founded
its predecessor organization, Working Today, in 1995.
Today the union runs its own insurance company and
education programs, and in November it will launch one
of its most audacious efforts to date: a bricks-and-
mortar medical center in downtown Brooklyn [3].
Horowitz recently spoke with Fast Company about
building a self-sustaining organization, getting beyond
the politics of right and left, and carrying labor’s
legacy into the future. 

Come For The Insurance, Stay For The Community

Bringing together a workforce with no common industry
tie means appealing to common needs. Health insurance
is a big one. And if low-cost insurance is the only
reason someone joins the Freelancers Union, Horowitz is
fine with that. “I was raised in a union household, but
I don’t expect people just graduating from college to
care about unionism and know labor history,” she says.
“One thing we’ve done really well is being honest and
open about where people are--you’re just as worthy if
you want health insurance as if you want something
larger. The labor movement was not organized by people
who were told just a big vision, nor just promised the
next salary increase. It was actually both and
everything in between.” 

Foster A PAC Mentality

The labor unions that emerged after the New Deal
championed better wages, benefits, and working
conditions through the process of collective
bargaining--negotiating with individual employers on
behalf of members. For today’s independent workforce,
that model no longer makes sense, but, says Horowitz,
advocacy on the government level does. To that end, the
Freelancers Union has formed political action
committees (PACs) at the state and federal level to
lobby for freelancers’ interests.

“We understand the taxation system for freelancers, and
it makes no sense,” says Horowitz. “The whole benefits
structure is set up so that freelancers who are working
middle class are not able to get any subsidies from
health-care reform.” Change will only come, Horowitz
believes, when freelancers come together to say what
they need, and take their case to leaders in
government. “The big picture of this is recognizing who
is really working,” she says. “We have to rid ourselves
of the illusion of a 40-hour workweek with benefits for
all.”

Already, Horowitz can point to some victories on the
policy front, successfully advocating to eliminate New
York City's Unincorporated Business Tax, which imposed
an unfair double tax on freelancers' business and
personal incomes, and coming “within a hair’s breadth"
of passing a law allowing freelancers to file wage
claims against deadbeat employers. Moving forward,
Horowitz aims to mobilize freelancers into a true
social movement, through initiatives that will allow
independent workers “to articulate what we need as a
country, to make sure we have a say in how this society
evolves. There’s a power in markets and power in
politics. We have to show that these issues affect
people across the board. It’s the same as the early
stages of the civil rights movement. People want
something better than what they’ve had since the
breakdown of the New Deal.” 

Form A More Perfect Union, VC Free

“I started the Freelancers Union with an eye toward
figuring out what the next form of unionism was going
to be,” says Horowitz. The organization draws on all
kinds of collective models--not just the big labor
unions that emerged in the wake of the New Deal. “There
were other movements of labor before that--like social
unionism, union housing. I see us not as just neighbors
with the labor movement, but with things like co-ops
and ESOPs [employee stock ownership plans], too. And
other models of social entrepreneurship are really
helpful.”

While the Freelancers Union is formally a nonprofit,
Horowitz is adamant about running it as a business. The
biggest part of that business is providing insurance.
Launched in 2009, the Freelancers Insurance Company now
covers more than 23,000 New Yorkers at rates up to 40%
less than other insurers, and is financially self-
sustaining. With $340 million in federal funding, in
2014 the union will launch consumer-driven health
insurance cooperatives in New York, New Jersey, and
Oregon, dramatically expanding member coverage.

Although some social enterprises have accepted private
funding from VCs, Horowitz has refused to take on
private investors, who might compromise the
organization’s decision-making. “What we really want is
economically aligned institutions whose goals and the
goals of its members are the same,” she says. “We need
business models that work to deliver things that are
excellent. The left has to get over the idea that we
have to be a traditional nonprofit that’s boring and
two-dimensional intellectually. The business types have
to get over the idea that everyone can get rich, be
happy, and do great. There are choices to be made.”

Build More Than Resumes

In November, the union will open its new medical center
in New York, which will provide free primary care
services for members, plus access to doctors and health
coaches by phone, email, and text. “We need to fill the
medical home and have people start to use it,” says
Horowitz. “The number of people who have gone to look
at the medical home in bulk through social media is
shocking. It’s spread so virally. We’re spreading the
word in a way people never imagined 20 years ago.”

“I look at the labor movement of the last 150 years and
see some amazing leaders,” says Horowitz. “The Reuther
brothers, John L. Lewis, Samuel Gompers, Sidney
Hillman--these men towered over the business leaders of
their day. I’m sad that more people don’t know about
that.” Still, Horowitz is confident that the
Freelancers Union is on the leading edge of a labor
renaissance. “We’re the most mature of this generation,
but we won’t be alone. As people come and look at the
same issues, they’ll start figuring out their own
approaches. Nobody has the blueprint yet. It’s
important for people to come together in different
ways. If we don’t find ways to bring people together,
they will react with pain.”

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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