With 14 primary endorsements and another 25 general election endorsements to be released on Wednesday, the Freelancers Union is hoping to continue building itself into a political force.
“We always say that our mission is to have power in markets and power in politics,” said Sara Horowitz, the founder and executive director of the 80,000-member group. “Our ultimate goal is that we want to start building the next New Deal, and we want New York to be the leader on that.”
Among the candidates in competitive primaries receiving the Freelancers’ endorsement are State Senate candidates Velmanette Montgomery, Bill Perkins, Adriano Espaillat and Gustavo Rivera, as well as Assembly candidates Ed Braunstein, Andrew Hevesi, Jeff Aubry and Francisco Moya.
The union is also backing Eric Schneiderman in the attorney general primary, with Horowitz pointing out the influence she believes the state’s top law enforcement official can have in helping rework New York’s industrial age-labor laws for the modern day, with a third of workers counting as independent. A commitment to other actions important to their members, such as prosecuting companies that fail to pay wages to freelancers, is what won Schneiderman the endorsement, Horowitz explained.
“That’s something an attorney general can start looking into: are there trends in the industry? Are there clear bad actors?” she said.
The Freelancers first waded into politics in 2008, endorsing Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver in his three-way primary that year. (He won their endorsement again this year for his November race.) The group backed 17 successful candidates in the 2009 New York City elections, ranging from Jumaane Williams to Michael Bloomberg, and claims part of the credit for David Yassky’s making it into the comptroller run-off.
This year, candidates from around the state were endorsed either because of their past efforts on behalf of Freelancers agenda items or via a screening process that included a questionnaire seeking opinions on priority issues like seeking unpaid wages, establishing affordable health insurance and expanding unemployment insurance. A seven-member committee made all final decisions, but the interviews were open to any of the union’s members.
Horowitz said the increased recognition of the group’s political potency through the strength of her members had kept her phone ringing.
“There’s definitely a growing interest in seeking us out,” she said.
According to Althea Erickson, the Freelancers’ associate director of advocacy and policy, the members will be mobilized through phonebanks, social media and emails (with providing an email address a condition of membership, this is an extensive list) between now and the elections. They are hoping the messages will go viral, looping in even more people.
“Whatever kind of way we have to communicate with them, we’ll do it,” Erickson said.
Willing members will also be organized by the group’s leadership and dispatched to supported campaigns to volunteer and help with GOTV.
And the group plans to use its PAC again this year as it did last year, hoping to at least match, if not exceed, the $30,000 it raised and spent in city races.
Decisions on which campaigns get PAC money and which get volunteers are expected next week.
Horowitz said that she is hoping the increased campaign activity will lead to more legislative victories next year, especially as the Freelancers try to gain support for a bill that would create more protections for freelancers seeking unpaid wages from employers. Originally introduced by State Sen. Daniel Squadron, the bill is as of July being carried in the Assembly by Silver.
“The biggest thing that we see is that elected officials often understand these issues on a personal level, because they have a child or a spouse who’s a freelancer,” Horowitz said, “but they now really need to make that connection that this is something they need to be doing in their work life.”
As for why people should be paying attention to their interests ahead of the primary and the general elections, Horowitz said, the answers are in the numbers.
“Independent workers are a third of the workforce,” Horowitz said. “Other than our PAC, there’s not a way to get to this workforce.”