On Thursday, November 17, Freelancers Union, in partnership with the Federal Reserve System Board of Governors and the NY Fed, launched Evolution of Work—a special gathering of business and labor leaders, policymakers, and economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Sara Horowitz—founder and executive director of Freelancers Union—framed the top issues to be tackled by the convening in a Medium piece published the day before:
“With such a large part of our workforce freelancing, we still know relatively little about their economic impact and how their work situations compare to that of the traditional workforce....Tomorrow we will discuss how to reconstruct the social safety net, what policies we must prioritize, and the role of government and institutions in building a new social infrastructure.”
Just 8 days after the results of our national election—and amidst a changing political landscape—participants from business, labor and academic sectors came together to discuss building solutions for the new workforce.
The desire for multi-sector cooperation and inquiry was tangible. Particular care was given to examining how changes in the gig economy might affect low to moderate income households as well as what policymakers could do to ensure workers’ equal access to quality benefits, education, and health care.
Other key themes included pressing needs of the nation’s freelance workforce, how labor can meet the needs of the changing workforce and ways in which technology and growing online platforms might continue to shape workers’ relationships to their work and the work itself.
Sara Horowitz; Bill Dudley, president and CEO of the Federal Bank of New York; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, opened the event by highlighting a need for all audience members and panelists to unite under a canopy of texture and appreciation for differences in thought. Only then, Sara stated, could participants begin to weave the many ways individuals see the world together and champion independent workers’ rights to thrive.
The day-long program consisted of four hour-long sessions, a working lunch with remarks from Lael Brainard of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and a closing note from Senator Mark Warner, powerfully remarking:
“A social safety net for independent workers, one third of the workforce, is one of the core issues of our time.”
In order to begin to find solutions for a strong, socially supported independent workforce, we must decide collectively and officially how to size the Gig Economy and determine its economic impact. As one panelist put it, a community that can’t be counted doesn’t count. Data will give us the tools for truly understanding the nuances of the diverse and often porous freelance workforce. Data will also provide the foundation from which we can build policies to support independent workers in the ways that will best serve them.
The convening brought together varied perspectives from multiple parties and many of the panels turned into lively debates between participants. All attendees agreed on one thing, however: The gig economy isn’t going away and independent workers deserve a better system to support their needs. In coming together with a common focus, we began to lay the groundwork for working together to create a better freelance future.
Freelancers Union would like to extend its deepest thanks to the many groups and individuals that made this convening possible. Together, we will continue to work towards a future in which all workers have access to career-related benefits, vocational training, and quality healthcare.