Know your rights as a freelancer

The freelance office accommodations are pretty sweet, but inconsistent pay and lack of benefits can be a problem if you don't have a plan and do your research.

Sara Horowitz founded the New York-based Freelancers Union in 2003. Today, the union boasts 170,000 members and even created their own health insurance company in 2009. Her new book, “The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams — On Your Terms,” will be released this month. We caught up with her for a preview.

How often do companies fail to pay freelancers?

From our surveys, 77 percent of people have had a client who hasn’t paid. After health insurance, the No. 1 issue for people is not getting paid, getting paid late or getting partial payment.

What do you do about that?

You need a good network. Find out about a company before you work for it, and don’t keep working if they’re not paying you. You can go to small claims court — but remember that even if you win, you may have to get a judgment. That can be a long process.

How do you insist on your rights while maintaining good relationships with your clients?

Of course, there’s no simple answer to that. But it’s always good to push for clarity: What is the assignment? What are the deliverables? It’s often good to write a memo summarizing that to make sure everybody is on the same page.

What is your response to people who say that unions have outlived their usefulness?

It’s funny; in the 1920s people often said that unions were dead. They were talking about a craft model that was for a workplace of the 1880s. Suddenly, in the 1930s, with mass production, there was a whole new kind of unionism. What a union is will continue to evolve. But the old ones don’t go away fully. They sit side by side.

A new route to health insurance

The Freelancers Insurance Company is currently only available for members living in New York state. But, beginning in 2014, the union will start three nonprofit health insurance companies in New York, New Jersey and Oregon. FIC claims their premiums are about 40 percent lower than typical individual plans. For more information, visit www.freelancersinsuranceco.com.


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