By Ryan Underwood
Field: Labor advocacy
Budget: $2.75 million
Working Today acts as an insurance-benefits manager for people who don't have one -- about 30% of the American workforce. Since it launched the Portable Benefits Network in 2001, about 7,000 freelancers, part-time employees, and contractors in New York have tapped into the program to pay insurance rates similar to what full-time employees at big companies do.
Sara Horowitz, Working Today's founder and executive director, says her organization is addressing a structural change in American labor: workers shifting from a fixed cost for business to a variable cost. As America's employees grow more mobile, Horowitz says, their safety nets become more porous. Working Today's model is based on establishing logical groups of mobile workers -- by geography and by industry -- that can advocate on behalf of their members, not unlike a traditional union.
But make no mistake. When Horowitz says "freelancer" she hardly has in mind the image of a young dilettante who is simply confused about what he wants to be when he grows up. She's thinking about under- or self-employed people with families who pay sky-high insurance rates as individuals.
Because the model of a lifelong relationship with an employer who would provide for one's family over the long haul has been eviscerated, Horowitz wants Working Today to help workers fill the benefits gap that's been created. In its most basic sense, Working Today is reorganizing scattered employees according to their industry group rather than by employer. Ultimately, Horowitz hopes, groups of workers will be viewed no differently by benefits companies than as a big block of workers from a single company.
"There's a tremendous need for [these] workers to have the same protection as other employees," says Tom Kochan, a professor at MIT's Sloan School and a member of Working Today's advisory board. "This is the future of the labor market."
But doesn't Working Today's filling in the benefits hole that employers have left behind somehow condone businesses' poor treatment of the American labor force? Employers are just as evil -- and just as good -- as they ever were, Horowitz says. What's changed is that where there was once a stable system of providing benefits for workers, that labor model has become a "Wild West" -- a wholesale structural change that transcends any single industry or company.
Sara Horowitz, Founder and executive director
Before founding Working Today in 1995, executive director Sara Horowitz was a labor attorney, a union organizer, and a public defender in New York. Horowitz, 40, has received numerous accolades including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, one of the Schwab Foundation's 100 Global Leaders for Tomorrow, a Stern Family Fund Public Interest, and an Echoing Green Fellowship. Horowitz attended Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and she holds a law degree from SUNY Buffalo, where she graduated cum laude, and a master's from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Horowitz works with the American Arbitration Association, the Task Force on Restructuring America's Labor Market Institutions at MIT, the Coro program in public affairs, and Ashoka.
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