Retirement and Indy Workers: Some Possibilities for Saving

Retirement Infographic (1)

Why ANY attempt to repeal the ACA would be a disaster for indy workers.

 ACA Repeal Infographic (1)

The Graham Cassidy Health Care Bill Won’t Work For Indy Workers — And It’s Up for Vote Next Week…

While it hasn’t yet received as much media attention as the last Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, if passed, will be just as devastating not only to indy workers, but to all working people and their families.

Named after Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) who have taken lead on this version of ACA repeal, the Graham-Cassidy bill represents the GOP’s last ditch-effort to kill the ACA before September 30, after which the number of votes needed to pass the bill rise above the number of Republicans currently in the Senate.

As is well established, passage of the ACA was particularly important for indy workers. Diane Mulcahy notes in the Harvard Business Review that before the ACA, most indy workers were left with limited options when it came to health care: “either buying a costly private health plan that didn’t cover preexisting conditions, included caps on maximum benefits payouts, and could even be rescinded after an enrollee becomes sick, or searching for increasingly scarce jobs from companies that are more and more reluctant to hire full-time employees.”

In proposing to repeal the ACA while not replacing it in any meaningful way, the Graham-Cassidy bill, like the attempts which preceded it, automatically harms indy workers who currently rely on state exchanges for their health care.

Beyond its affects on indy workers, the bill cuts tens of billions of dollars in federal health care spending and could result in millions losing their insurance. As Slate outlines, the bill:

  • “Would take the money that the government currently spends on the ACA’s premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion and dispense it back to states in the form of block grants that they could use to fund their own health care experiments;”
  • “Give states the right to waive most of [the ACA’s] key regulations, including those that prevent insurers from charging more to people based on their health, so long as they explain their plan to ‘maintain access to adequate and affordable health insurance coverage for individuals with pre-existing coverage.’ (It’s not clear if that plan has to be realistic);
  • “Shift dollars from predominantly Democratic states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare to predominantly Republican states that did not. It’ll be a smaller pie overall, and places like New York and California that are inclined to expand health coverage will be getting a smaller slice.”
  • “Lists six different ways states can use their block grant money—but the spending categories are purposely broad, and it’s entirely conceivable that an Alabama or Mississippi would use its money to supplant some of their existing state spending or patch budget holes.”
  • “Does not appropriate any money for its block grants after 2026.”
  • “Is paired with a cap-and-cut approach to traditional Medicaid that is just as draconian as what the most recent Senate bill proposed.”

Mitch McConnell has declared that the vote for Graham-Cassidy will take place next week.

It’s imperative that you call your Senators.

If they are Republicans, urge them to vote “No” on Graham-Cassidy (here’s a brief article on the four most important Senators who need to hear from you if you’re in their legislative district). If they are Democrats, ask them to more vocally oppose the bill and to educate their constituents on its potentially damaging effects.

You can find out who your Senators are and how to contact them here.

What can Hollywood teach indy workers?


Hollywood Workers and Unpredictability

Indy work, the gig economy, and organizing for worker rights aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of Hollywood. Nevertheless, as W. Harry Fortuna, a former movie location manager and scout, writes in an article for Quartz: “The gig economy has existed in Hollywood for a very long time—and today’s Uber and TaskRabbit workers could learn a lot from Tinseltown.”

Fortuna tells the history of worker organizing in Hollywood’s gig economy from the earliest union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), “formed in New York City in the mid-1880s during Vaudeville-era Broadway,” to the Teamsters (who were connected to Hollywood by their transportation of people and equipment to various film sites), to “the talent guilds, like the Directors, Writers, and Screen Actors Guilds, came decades later, at the end of the Silent Era of movie-making in the 1930s.”

What Hollywood has to teach indy workers, according to Fortuna, is that “Hollywood workers know that we are only as strong as we are united.”

What each of these eras had in common, and what gave workers a shared struggle around which to organize, was the unpredictability of the work. To this day, what unites actors, script writers, and film crews is the fact that “on-demand labor drives every TV show, movie, commercial, and scripted program in the US. The entertainment industry is entirely dependent on the availability of a talented and dedicated labor force that is ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

Indy Workers, Unpredictability, and Organizing

Fortuna could be describing any indy worker in today’s gig economy when he writes:

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in the Hollywood workforce with niche specializations whose services are not in consistent demand. When you’re not working, you hope to get a call—maybe temporary work for a day or a week or a month, or, if you’re lucky, steady work on a hit TV show that could last for years.”

Given the unpredictable nature of work in Hollywood:

“Without the promise of high-quality, consistent healthcare, access to pension and saving plans, and guarantees to prevent a race to the bottom wherein younger, hungrier, needier workers can underbid wages and take away jobs, it would be nearly impossible to retain the kind of talent that’s required to make Hollywood magic a reality.”

This is exactly where unions and guilds, like the Indy Worker Guild, come into play: “Unions ensure that those dedicated to the work know what to expect and have a say as to the minimum of what protections and benefits are provided.”

What Hollywood has to teach indy workers, according to Fortuna, is that “Hollywood workers know that we are only as strong as we are united.”

Anti-Union Rhetoric and the Gig Economy

Fortuna notes that part of the reason worker organizing has been slow to take in the gig economy has to do with the anti-union rhetoric put forth by companies and businesses eager to take advantage of cheaper labor.

Some of the same reasons given against organizing indy workers today were used by the Hollywood executives of old. For instance, one of the “key argument that gig-economy corporations make against unionization is that their business models will be ruined if workers are classified as employees rather than independent contractors.” Because independent contractors are not legally able to organize unions, we created the Indy Worker Guild, as an advocacy organization for workers in the gig economy.

Fortuna responds that “to this, Hollywood history says: ‘Yawn, what else you got?’” He notes that “Hollywood studios and productions tried and failed to apply this argument to writers numerous times throughout the 1930s and 1940s.” Given that we continue to enjoy movies and television, and that Hollywood continues to thrive, this argument rings hollow.

Worker Unity

Learning the lessons that the history of Hollywood worker organizing has to offer, the key takeaway for indy workers in the gig economy is that only in uniting together can we win the benefits and protections the unpredictable nature of our work makes necessary.

As Fortuna puts it, after joining the Teamsters Union: “There was no difference in my job responsibilities, and no change in the amount of hours I worked per day. The only difference was whether it was me, alone, against management, or me as a part of the team of thousands with similar responsibilities and interests.”

The Indy Worker Guild stands ready to bring together thousands of indy workers with similar responsibilities and interests in healthcare, paid leave, workers’ compensation, and so on. Please, feel free to contact us if you’d like to tell us your story or share ideas you might have about organizing. To quote Fortuna one last time: “If today’s gig-economy workers need proof of the possibilities offered by collective bargaining, they need only look West.”


These 5 Tips From CNN Need a Rewrite if They’re Going to Apply to “Every” Gig Worker


Last week, CNN Money posted an article titled “5 Things Every Gig Worker Should Know.” Unfortunately, by “every gig worker” they really meant, “every gig worker who is financially stable enough to choose leaving a permanent position for indy work.”

Let’s look at the 5 things we should know according to the article:

“1. Develop an exit strategy.” 

The idea here assumes that you already have a full-time job. Though the article mentions the possibility that someone might be turning to indy work out of necessity, the recommendation for developing an exit strategy is to “imagine you’re going to be laid off from your job in six months.” You’re supposed to ask “what events and conferences would you attend? Who would you reconnect with? What skills or certifications would you work on?” We’re clearly talking about someone with the kind of financial resources to network and/or gain some kind of new educational credentials or skills.

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to prepare in advance of losing a full-time job. Downsizing, lay offs, and termination for any number of reasons leave people unemployed and without any chance to prepare. In these scenarios, indy work isn’t something that is turned to for more freedom around one’s schedule or for the autonomy that certain kinds of freelancing can offer. Rather, indy workers often have multiple part-time gigs they string together, or, they work full-time and have a side gig — all in the effort to just make ends meet.

“2. Create a safety blanket”

The second thing CNN Money thinks you should know is that it’s important to “ensure you have a healthy nest egg for those rainy days — especially when your income is fluctuating.” This can be done, according to the article, by “putting aside at least six months’ worth of minimum living expenses into a savings account (or more, depending on your spending habits).” Again, this assumes that you have enough time and money to be able to save six months worth of living expenses before becoming an indy worker.

More importantly, this tip assumes that indy workers should be individually responsible for the fluctuation in income that often characterizes independent, contract, and freelance work. Just as workers in this country have organized throughout our history for the protections and benefits that offset the difficulties associated with full-time employment – for example, paid sick leave, pension plans, the eight hour work day, breaks, etc., – so too can indy workers organize.

The Indy Worker Guild exists precisely to unite indy workers across a range of gig economy jobs. We are stronger together than alone. Collective pressure is an effective force against unwilling employers, and can also push legislation and policies that establish benefits and protections to offset the difficulties of indy work. If indy work causes fluctuations in income, then we need a worker-led and government instituted solution to that difficulty. (See the section titled “Multiemployer Plans” in this report for some ideas about solving the problem of income instability for indy workers.)

“3. Figure out a retirement plan”

Because there are currently no employer offered retirement plans for indy workers, this tip, once again, assumes that indy workers should be responsible for figuring out something on their own. See the response to number 2 above.

“4. Don’t forget about your taxes”

This is good advice. As 1099 workers, indy workers are responsible for paying their own taxes as well as the employer-side taxes. Rather than the article’s suggestion that taxes should be reviewed by an accountant every month, and all the assumptions about income that lie behind that suggestion, it would be much more inclusive to advocate for affordable, public accountants who can help low-income indy worker with their taxes. Indeed, with enough numbers, an organization like the Indy Worker Guild could offer such discounted (or even free) services to its members. Again, we’re stronger together than alone.

“5. Read the fine print”

This tip, based on the same assumptions as having an accountant review your taxes every month, suggests that you “find a lawyer to help review contracts.” Again, a more inclusive suggestion would be for affordable, public attorneys that can help any indy worker review contracts. Of course not all indy workers are in the position to negotiate their contracts, and to be fair, the article does acknowledge that “individuals will likely have little leverage to negotiate contracts with bigger companies such as Uber.” What about a large number of individuals organized together though? Organizing together through a group such as the Indy Worker Guild is the only way to negotiate the fine print in contracts with big companies.

In short, it’s important to remember that not every indy worker has the means or the choices available to individually sustain themselves. Any tips offered to “every gig worker” should account for the precariousness experienced by many, many people working in the gig economy and should be forthright in offering solutions to help all indy workers, not just the privileged few. Foremost among any and all suggestions is to unite together to fight together for worker justice in the gig economy – – which is precisely the mission of the Indy Worker Guild