Should Freelance Workers Join a Union?

Mar 4, 2022 | PDA Blog

Article was specially written for Progressive Democrats of America by Andrea Conner

The freelance market is becoming something to be reckoned with in the American workforce. Presently, 59 million adult workers are actively freelancing, and 70% of SMBs regularly utilize freelancers. These numbers underscore the growing role of the gig economy in the new normal. With all this growth and demand though, it’s time we re-examine an important query: Is it time for freelancers to join a union?

The current state of freelancing in America

In the past year, the population of freelancers has grown exponentially. As of 2021, more than one-third of the entire U.S. workforce has performed freelance work. In large part, the reason for this surge is the yearning for more flexibility amidst the pandemic. This is a trend that has been seen with employees across all industries and from all different educational backgrounds.

In fact, recent surveys reveal that the number of new freelancers with higher education credentials is growing. Since 2020, 51% of post-graduates have gotten into freelancing. Even among more traditional careers in finance and business, freelancers are becoming commonplace with 6% growth since 2019. Remote accountants and strategists, for instance, have been useful for 83% of surveyed SMBs. And in a similar trend, freelance writers and others in creative fields are actually seeing upskilling. With the proliferation of online courses like liberal arts that teach relevant skills, many writers are able to complete a program while also working regularly for a diverse clientele. As a matter of fact, skilled freelance writers have become some of the cornerstones of the gig economy, with steady job growth of 10%.

Despite all this, though, freelancers today are still not immune to the challenges of working independently. Among the most pressing issues that freelancers currently face are congestion of the talent pool, difficulty finding work, and lack of employer benefits. These may not impact more connected or part-time freelancers. But for those who hope to make a steady living freelancing, the dilemma is clear –– and the need for a union is paramount.

Benefits of a union for freelancers

Despite what corporate America may say, unions do not impede the independence of freelancers. Rather, having a union helps to preserve the liberties and rights which all workers justly deserve. This is especially important for freelancers whose biggest problem is often being considered “less important” by big companies that want to shirk responsibilities. With a union, this sort of problem will be prevented.

To illustrate how a union can address this, let’s refer back to when Kellogg’s was pushing its two-tier wage system for “transitional” workers. In this arrangement, 30% of the company’s current workforce was receiving lower wages and benefits. This is despite working the same labor as “legacy” workers. Thanks to union workers who actively fought against this setup however, a new contract was created. Although it maintained a two-tier wage system, this new contract made it such that wages increase, and 3% of workers will annually be moved into the “legacy” tier. This is a prime example of how a union can protect workers from work abuses.

For freelancers, this same level of support is only one of the added benefits a union can bring. By simply becoming union members, freelancers can also enjoy discounted and diverse insurance, networking, training events, and relief funds –– to name just a few perks. These benefits are immensely important given that most freelancers are forced to find their own healthcare coverage and business growth opportunities. With these advantages in place freelancers are better able to provide for themselves and their families, with less uncertainty about the resources they have.

In conclusion

While freelancing is becoming more commonplace, protections and support for freelancers continue to lag behind. This is why union memberships should be a serious consideration for any independent professional. At a time when the nation is seeing more industries and professionals turning to freelance, a union’s guidance and protections are key.

Unfortunately, due to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), thousands of freelancers are unable to join unions. This problem is also, sadly, particularly biased against racial minorities and women. But this only makes it all the more critical that we push our lawmakers to remedy the problem and make unionization accessible for all. As the Great Resignation continues to swell the ranks of freelancers, unions may in fact be necessary to keeping this economy and workforce running.