DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The tens-of-thousands-strong Freelancers Union is joining the ranks of labor organizations that supply their members with a brick-and-mortar medical center.
The new medical building is slated to open in Downtown Brooklyn on Nov. 5, and nearly 25,000 insured Freelancers Union members will benefit from traditional doctors, as well as wellness programs like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, ergonomics assistance, nutrition counseling, cooking classes, support groups and the help of a health coach.
“Not only is the new medical center a viable option for uninsured freelancers, it also seems like a great way for us to connect,” said Alex Sarlin, 32, a Brooklyn-based educational technology consultant.
“There are a lot of us freelancers here in Brooklyn,” he said. “But we don’t know each other, so the job can feel isolating at times.”
Brooklyn has been rapidly growing as a freelancers' mecca, according to statistics from the Center for the Urban Future. “In Brooklyn, the number of freelance writers, artists, architects, producers and interior, industrial and graphic designers increased more than 33 percent from 2000 to 2006,” the center stated.
And that number has only continued to grow, according to the Freelancers Union.
Brooklyn’s hip neighborhood cafes look more like office spaces during the day, with tables covered with MacBook laptops and half-finished cups of coffee. Short-term office space rentals and guerilla pop-up workspaces have become the norm in neighborhoods like DUMBO and Williamsburg, where even the table space in coffee shops is limited.
“Brooklyn is a great place for freelancers because it is close to the city, but is still very self-contained and creative,” said Nicole Gates Anderson, 29, a freelance journalist. “Plus there are tons of alternative spaces to work and be around others, such as Loosecubes, which are basically shared office spaces.”
And though freelancers may have it made with flexible hours and the ability to work from just about anywhere, they often have very few guarantees when it comes to health insurance.
“I need to take prescription medications,” said Sarlin, who currently purchases insurance from a former employer under COBRA. “It is a very scary prospect to one day not have insurance and still have to fill those prescriptions.”
But thanks to the Freelancers Union, the writers, graphic designers and nannies of Brooklyn can breathe a sigh of relief.
The plans provided by the union are not exactly cheap: The least expensive monthly plan costs $225 a month after a $10,000 deductible, while the most expensive is $600 a month with a $1,500 deductible. Once insured, members can use the new medical center and all its perks free of charge and with no co-pay. And the union’s insurance plan can look pretty good when compared to private insurance, which can run upwards as $1,300 for an HMO plan.
For freelancers with limited options for affordable care, “the 6,000-square-foot space designed specifically for on-the-go freelancers with free Wi-Fi in the reception area” may seem like a pretty attractive option.
"It sounds like an amazing opportunity to find doctors and preventative care all in one place," Sarlin said. "And the offices are not located in Michigan somewhere — it’s right here in Brooklyn."
The Freelancers Union medical center opens Nov. 5 at 408 Jay St. in Downtown Brooklyn.