By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Roughly a third of American workers these days are freelancers. As 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan finds, it’s a rapidly growing industry and now people are joining forces.

For freelancer Joshua Warren, finding a steady stream of income wasn’t always easy. He says, “It was very hit or miss; it was a lot of word of mouth.” This is a common problem for the 42 million independent workers in this country. Sara Horowitz with the Freelancers Union says, “We expect that number to grow year after year because, essentially, people are working by putting together projects and gigs and jobs.” According to Horowitz there are an increasing number of organizations and web sites that are offering perks and resources to freelancers. She says, “We want to make sure that people get the same kinds of protections that traditional employees get.”

That’s why the Freelancers Union offers cost-effective retirement plans, as well as dental, disability, and life insurance. Looking for affordable healthcare? Sites like Elance and oDesk offer access to discounted rates.

If you’re job searching a number of sites advertise freelance jobs and work to help you build a profile. Many, like oDesk, also have feedback systems in place. oDesk CEO Gary Swart says, “After each job they’ll get rated based on skills, quality, deadlines, communication, and cooperation, enabling them to build an online reputation.”

These sites also act as virtual workspaces, complete with things like time sheets, status reports and digital to-do lists. Some even make sure you see a payday. In fact Swart says, “We guarantee payment whether we collect it from the employer or not.”

Membership to the freelancers union is free. The organization is pushing for things like unemployment insurance, payment protection, and fair taxation. Web sites like oDesk and Elance are also free, but take a portion of the money that you earn.


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