Building a New Social Safety Net: Sara Horowitz and the Freelancers Union

In 1909, Jewish women revolutionized the American labor movement. Before the huge garment industry strike known as the “Uprising of the 20,000,” union leaders saw women workers as irrelevant to the labor movement because they did not fit into the model of the traditional male union member. But these garment workers, many of them young Jewish women, proved that women could, in fact, organize effectively and challenge working conditions, and in doing so, they expanded the definition of worker and union member.

Another Jewish woman, Sara Horowitz, is doing something similar today. Born into labor activism-“My grandfather was vice president of the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union. My father was a union-side labor lawyer, as is my husband… I grew up going to the union housing apartments, where my grandma lived”-she began working for unions at age 18. During her early career as a labor organizer and labor attorney, she began to notice that the social safety net- designed by labor unions and implemented by FDR’s New Deal-does not protect the growing independent workforce of freelancers. Because social services such as health insurance, disability insurance, and retirement plans are traditionally organized through employers, freelancers-who currently make up more than 30% of the economy-do not have access to them.


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