Labor unions (aka trade unions) have existed for hundreds of years, gaining popularity during the Industrial Revolution.
Unions are an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals. Although there have been some attempts to outlaw them, they continue to exist pushing the agenda of their members.
As the ranks of freelancers, independent contractors and the self employed have grown (some estimates put the number of independent workers as high as 30% of the US workforce), the need for peer support has given rise to the idea of unions for independent workers.
Should you join a union? Below we look at some of the pros and cons.
Private/Priority Access to Available Jobs and Projects
Unions will often provide job/project listings exclusively to members, giving you access to additional work opportunities.
Even when those listings are open to the public, members will often prioritize other Union members when selecting candidates for their jobs.
Participate in Key Advocacy Efforts
As an individual it can be difficult to have your voice heard.
Decisions that affect you and your business, at the city, state and federal levels can get made without consideration of your opinion. By banding with other like minded individuals your voice can grow louder and be heard at every level, changing or re-enforcing policies.
Access to Health Benefits
Many independent works forgo health insurance when starting out. If they are not covered by previous employers plan (COBRA), or through their spouse, the cost individual insurance plans prohibit the purchase for many people.
By becoming a member of a union you often have the opportunity to purchase health insurance at a group rate. Not only do you get good deals on monthly fees and lowered deductibles, you may also gain the ability to choose from more than one type of healthcare plan.
Even if you are able to get insurance from other sources, the union plans may provide better options and pricing for your needs.
Networking with your peers
Being an independent worker can be a lonely existence, rare meetings with clients your only external contact. Unions are a network of like minded, like skilled professionals, that you can turn to for advice and support. Unions are also able to leverage their base of members to organize or access specialty conferences and workshops that can help your improve your skills, with advice from industry leader and peers alike.
Get Support for Your Business
We often forget that being a freelancer does mean you’re in business, albeit a small one. Unions are able to offer advice and support for organizing and running that business as smoothly as possible. The can provide access to relevant articles, industry research and training to help you run a profitable business.
Just as unions are able to negotiate good rates on health insurance, with large enough numbers, unions are also able to gain access to special deals on other products and services their members may need.
The larger the unions, the better range of offers and size of discounts they may be able to get.
Although membership has its benefits it comes at a cost. Most Unions require annual dues to cover administrative and other costs related to their operations.
Time and Effort
Unions are often powered by the efforts of their members, the value you gain from being a member will be reflective of the time and effort you are able to put into it.
You can’t agree with everyone all the time, but the Unions must present a unified front with representing its members, so sometimes they may put forward a point of view or opinion that you as the minority do you agree with. Depending on how important these issues are for you, may affect if wish to retain your union membership.
Although Unions are a collection of workers, they still need leadership to run the day to day operations. That leadership is elected by the members, but much like government, once elected the leadership is under no obligation to do as the members want, unless required by the union bylaws.
Unions and Groups for Independent Contractors
The freelancers union is free for all freelance professionals. This group provides certain insurance and retirement plans and benefits. The union is also active politically, advocating the rights of those who rely upon themselves for employment.
This union is made for freelance writers and independent contractors in all literary fields including books, journalism and online writing.
IWA, a non-profit professional association, is the industry’s recognized leader in providing educational and certification standards for Web professionals.
Are you a member of a freelancers union? What made you join or keeps you out?