Should you join a freelance or writers union?

November 15, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Business Smarts 

writer or freelance unionWriting can be a lonely way to make a living.

This is especially true if you’re a freelancer, but it’s also true if you have a full-time corporate position.

Writers create the messages that communicate, persuade, and sell. Yet they are too often underpaid and disrespected by those who directly benefit from the skill and experience writers bring to the business world.

I cannot personally complain much about this, but I’ve had my fair share of prospects who have expected me to essentially be their slave, work for nearly nothing, and bask in the joy of it all.

Some of this has come from pure ignorance about what professional writers do. Though some comes from outright disrespect. Though I try to be polite, I have little patience for this and am not shy about expressing my opinions on the matter.

When this disrespect takes the form of cheating you out of fair pay, breaking contracts, or ignoring copyright protections, it may be time to consider joining a union. And I’d like to introduce you to two of them.

The National Writers Union and the Freelancers Union are two well-known organizations.

The National Writers Union (NWU) boasts more than 1,200 members and has support from the United Automobile Workers. They seek to advance income and improve working conditions for many types of writers, including freelancers.

Benefits include contract advice, assistance in resolving grievances, legal and political advocacy, member education, job listings, insurance, copyright defense, and various resources and services.

They require that you are a professional writer and meet certain standards, but the standards are fairly low. You must have “published a book, a play, three articles, five poems, a short story, or an equal amount of newsletter, publicity, technical, commercial, government, or institutional copy.”

However, even if your written material is unpublished, you can join if you are “actively writing and attempting to publish your work.”

Dues depend on your writing income, from $120 a year if you earn less than $5,000 to $340 a year if you earn $45,001 and above.

The Freelancers Union caters to all freelancers, not just writers. Like the NWU, they offer various benefits and services, including insurance, retirement plans, jobs, political advocacy, educational and social events, and discounts on things like gym memberships and workspace.

The big advantage of the Freelancers Union is that membership is free and there are no particular requirements other than having a valid email address. They also have a larger community, tens of thousands, partly because membership is free, partly because their member universe is more diverse.

Just on a personal note, the Freelancers Union offers a much more user-friendly website. And I notice that nowhere do they use the abbreviation FU. This is wise.

I’m a member of the Freelancers Union, but not the NWU. My impression is that the NWU is more of a traditional union. However, the Freelancers Union does have a political action committee that fights for freelancer rights and offers lots of solid benefits.

Should you join one or both of these unions? That’s up to you. Since the Freelancers Union is free, I don’t see any harm in giving it a try. You can look at the NWU website and decide if the benefits are worth the money for you.

Keep in mind that most unions have a certain political leaning that may or may not agree with your own position on issues. Also, organizations like these tend to cater to typical writers, not necessarily high-paid copywriters and consultants. So consider the advice you get carefully.

These days, with corporations taking more and more liberties with contracts, copyright, and the often desperate condition of some writers, I think it’s a good idea for writers and freelancers to band together to protect their own interests.

Whether you’re a full-time employee or an independent writer, and regardless of your specialty or the industry you work in, you provide a professional and important service. You should demand the pay and respect that you deserve. Joining a union may be one way for you to protect your personal interests and the writing profession.

Do you belong to a union or association? Which one and how does it benefit you?

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