Union offers hope for this student writer

We seem to be entering a new era in the job market. Applying for jobs is not like it was 10 years ago or even before 2009. As a young student writer I have faced challenges in finding work. Whether it’s writing articles or even just finding an unrelated job to support myself, the odds are stacked against people like me.

This is an era of temporary workers, anti-union “right to work” laws, and declining job security, driven by politics. Unionized workforces have not been immune to these changes.

Labor union membership has declined over the past few years. This decline along with state-led conservative efforts to impose “right to work” laws, combined with outside political interference in union organizing, has bolstered corporate resistance towards unionization and union membership.

Increasingly, employers find ways around federal labor laws to increase profit by avoiding hiring full-time workers and using independent contractors and temporary workers instead. Journalists and others have been laid off by traditional newspapers and magazines and are forced to resort to freelance work to pay their bills.

I rely on my writing to support myself, pay my bills, and cover my tuition costs for school. As a freelancer I am considered an independent contractor with little protection. As a lonely independent writer, I am faced with contracts that are overwhelmingly in favor of the publication in question, not the writer.

This past year after being given the runaround by several publications I was frustrated and considered taking a break from writing. I daydreamed: if only there was a union for non-traditional workers such as myself.

Then I discovered hope. A writing friend of mine sent me a link to a union called Guild Freelancers. Guild Freelancers is a unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, which is part of the Communications Workers of America and the AFL-CIO.

The Guild’s mission is to support freelance writers and journalists of all kinds. The “About” page of its website spells out the need for such a union:

“Our unit uses the power of numbers to directly support the needs of independent writers and journalists in all media, including hundreds of workers laid off by Northern California media outlets this year.”

Using the power of mutual aid, the Pacific Media Workers Guild has given a voice to those of us who have been unable to find full-time writing work, have been laid off, or work for multiple publications as freelancers.

Like the Guild Freelancers, other unions are finding creative ways to organize non-traditional workers and independent contractors. For example, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance organizes New York cab drivers who are considered independent contractors. The Alliance’s most notable victory was the successful launch of a health and disability insurance trust fund for its drivers.

Organizing temporary workers has been harder. But a good example of a successful campaign happened in March this year in Oregon, when the Oregon Employment Relations Board ruled that temporary park rangers employed by the city of Portland could join a union.

As a member of the Guild Freelancers, I have access not only to contract advice, grievance assistance, and job listings but also to health, dental, and vision insurance coverage. As a member of a CWA local, part of the AFL-CIO, I also gain access to the Union Plus program that offers discounts and financial products to union members.

Despite greedy employers who seek to maximize their profits and avoid hiring full-time workers, freelance and temporary workers and union organizers are finding creative ways to organize.

One freelancer alone is not very powerful. But a group of freelancers and temporary workers organized with a union have the power and ability to stand up for their rights to be treated fairly and to have a decent contract.

Photo: Guild Freelancers Facebook page.



Michael Leonard
Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard spends his time writing for a variety of progressive causes. In his spare time he writes fiction.