This post is part of the People’s Insights monthly brief for August.Source: web-strategist.com
The Collaborative Economy or the Sharing Economy is a relatively young socio-economic system built around the sharing of human and physical resources. This is a complex and diverse market known for its big names – Airbnb, Uber, Elance-Odesk, TaskRabbit, Postmates, Fiverr, Kiva and so on. But silently, working in background, are other players that support this ecosystem – including the providers themselves, investors, non-profits and advocates, as Jeremiah Owyang explains in his comprehensive post 12 players of the Collaborative Economy.
The ease of making some extra bucks and even a respectable living by sharing resources or services, combined with high levels of unemployment and wage stagnation in many places, has led to a surge in the number of freelancers. While the chance to earn a living and the freedom that comes with freelancing is great, this type of work also comes with a fair share of uncertainty. Freelancers don’t get benefits normally associated with full-time jobs, for example when it comes to insurance and taxes. That’s where non-profits like Freelancers Union step in.
What is Freelancers Union?
Freelancers Union is a US-based non-profit that was set up in 1995 to unite freelancers and advocate for better benefits. It has the largest network of independent workers with over 240,000 members.
For reference, the estimated number of independent workers in the US in 2006 was about 30% of the entire workforce at 42.6 million. By 2020, a study by intuit projects, independent workers will be 40% of the workforce at 60 million people.
Freelancer Union promotes the interests of its members through education, advocacy, and better bargaining for insurance in some regions. In 2008, the association even launched its own insurance agency, Freelancers Insurance Company. Freelancers Union recently also launched the Freelancers Health Collective which offers the added benefit of free wellness services like yoga, nutritional counselling, meditation, stress management etc.
Freelancers Union also recently launched the National Benefits platform, which allows members to search by zip code to see which benefits are available in their geography. Benefits listed on the platform include 401k plans, dental insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, liability insurance and health insurance.
Members are also given an opportunity to meet one another at events, and to get involved in advocacy for better rights as independent workers.
To join Freelancers Union, freelancers need to show they worked a minimum of 20 hours/week for the last 8 weeks, or have earned $10,000 from freelancing in the last six months.
The playing field today
In 2014, Freelancers Union launched three co-ops in New York, New Jersey and Oregon (with $340 in federal funding), to sponsor non-profit, consumer-driven health plans for members in these states. The association also received $100,000 from the New York City Council to support its plan to launch a medical center in Brooklyn.
On the insurance side of the business, the association is facing challenges from the Affordable Care Act and competition from new entries in the individual insurance business. On the advocacy side, its encouraging more freelancers to participate in the new mutalism, and work together to support the sharing economy.
Over in Europe, freelancers are coming together to do the same with the EU Freelancers Movement.