Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Freelance Pittsburgh

The Mobile Class needs a champion (and a good cupcake). Sara Horowitz could be that person:

The conventional wisdom is that, for better or worse, trade unionism is in irreversible long-term decline, at least in the world's leading economies. In America, for example, only 12.5% of the workforce now belongs to a union and a mere 7.8% of private-sector workers, down from one-third in 1960. Most forecasts predict that this trend will continue, perhaps until unionism is confined to museums and history books. But Sara Horowitz is determined to prove them wrong.

Ms Horowitz is trying to reinvent the trade union to meet the needs of today's workers—specifically, the fast-growing army of freelancers who flit from one employer to another. These workers have largely been ignored by the traditional trade unions, which are wedded to the shrinking band of workers who expect to spend the bulk of their careers with one employer, particularly in the public sector, where over one-third of workers are still unionised. In 2001 Ms Horowitz launched what is now called the Freelancers Union. Today, with 37,000 members, it has already become the seventh-largest union in New York state, and could soon be far bigger. In the next few weeks it will open a branch in Connecticut, with three more states to follow by next spring. After that it has plans to expand into the rest of the country, and perhaps even beyond.

While mobility increases economic opportunity, the windfall often comes at the price of rights. Newcomers do not enjoy the same strength of voice as the natives. Furthermore, those willing to move to improve are often scapegoated as the source of a region's woes.

Anything that could help increase the mobility of labor would strenghten the hand of the worker. Unions often have been in the position of anti-immigrant, fearing outsiders willing to toil for less pay. The result is a poorly developed legal regime that protects economic migrants, unions pitted against the very workers it should be helping.

The Freelancers Union is a bit like a diaspora network, tapping into the resources of a large and talented group. And also akin to immigrant groups, cities such as Pittsburgh could position themselves to attract this type of employee.

The Freelancers Union is looking to expand. Why not in Pittsburgh?

1 comment:

Jim Russell said...

I think Pittsburgh could do a few things to make itself more freelancer friendly. WiFi downtown isn't a bad start (as long as it works well).

Free WiFi at a niche bakery is even better. Benefits provide the icing.