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Monday: Research Professionals in NY, NJ, CT- pay attention

A lot of you are understandably upset that the world expects you to take a steep cut in pay and forego benefits because they don’t see how the chicken gets made, plus you belong to a reviled profession.  You’re only a step above health insurance claim processors and nuclear reactor specialists (there are family members out there who are laughing very loudly right now).

Anyway, how do you pay for everything on your vastly reduced salary while you fly back and forth between coasts trying to keep your head above water?  Well, this article in the NYTimes describes one possible option.  It’s called the Freelancers Union and it is growing:

For most of the 20th century, it was efficient to link benefits to jobs this way. But today, more and more work falls outside the one-to-one, employee-to-employer relationship. Work is decentralized, workers are mobile, and working arrangements are fluid. However, the risks of life haven’t gone away: people still need protections. They just need a different system to distribute them. They need benefits that they can carry around, like their laptops. As things stand, millions of independent workers go without health and unemployment insurance, protection against discrimination and unpaid wages, and pension plans. It makes no sense.

One of the social innovators to recognize this problem early and act on it was Sara Horowitz, the founder of the Freelancers Union, which has more than 165,000 members across all 50 states.

She quickly discovered that their biggest concern was the cost of health insurance. But there were other problems, too. Unlike traditional workers who receive unemployment benefits, independent contractors have to rely on their own resources to get through hard times. In 2009, Freelancers Union surveyed 3,000 members and found that more than 80 percent had gone jobless or underemployed during the year. More than 60 percent had used their credit cards or borrowed from friends and family to make ends meet, and 12 percent had to turn to food stamps. Close to 40 percent had given up, or downgraded, their health insurance protection.

Another problem was getting paid. Some companies, like Time Inc., actually charge freelancers penalties if they request payment within 25 days. Freelancers Union found that 77 percent of its members had been cheated by a client during their careers and 40 percent had had trouble getting paid in 2009. The average wage loss was $6,000. The Department of Labor protects traditional workers from unpaid wages, but freelancers have no equivalent recourse. Then there were difficulties obtaining mortgages, the lack of access to 401(k) plans, and other issues.

Go read the whole article.  This is either a step in the right direction or the last resort.  Regardless, it’s necessary.  I didn’t know that some companies make you wait so long to get paid and penalize you if you ask in advance in order to feed your kids.  This is the up and coming area where labor laws will be fought because so many of us are being forced into contract work.  You don’t have to be a psychic to figure out how this will impact the economy in the future.  If you can never be absolutely sure that your work will be paid or if paid, paid on time, it’s very difficult to pay the rent or buy a car or any other little luxury in life, like an education for your kids or a retirement for yourself.  It’s the way of the precariat.  Expect that to eventually effect the cost of houses, the number of cars sold in the US and a rise in the number of emergency room visits that must be picked up by taxpayers.

When precariatism hits the experienced research professional it’s particularly disturbing because most of the time, we’re just not paying attention.  We don’t have the smooth talking survival skills of the salesmen.  Our work is vital, no question about that.  And it’s academically and mentally demanding.  But the bigwigs who run things are commissioning their next yacht.  They fail to see the way they are destroying their research departments, to the eventual disappointment of the shareholders, and they’re not particularly concerned with the impact that their short term decision making and trendy management schemes are having on the economy.

So, you have to do things for yourselves.  You can’t expect anyone else to do this for you.  I checked out the Freelancer’s Union site the other day and their health insurance policies were competitive with my COBRA policy and in most cases, the price was much more affordable as was their term life insurance.  When you’re out of the system *everything* is more expensive.  It’s really unfair to your kids.  But there you go, that’s the way it’s going to be until we get a handle on this new reality and figure out a way to gain the upper hand again.  Is every new idea going to be perfect at first?  Of course not.  Few things are.  But I was genuinely surprised to find that a freelancers union existed at all.  It’s going to be a long hard slog.  Start now.

Today, the Freelancers Union offers health insurance policies only to New York state residents.  They have a presence in NJ but no insurance policies yet.  I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get them either but we are in desperate need.  Those of you booted off the pharma payrolls in NJ might want to consider moving across the border if you’re commuting anyway.

Don’t let them force you into precariatism without a fight.