Rafael Espinal, Freelancers Union
by Benjamin Fang
Apr 15, 2020 | 2998 views | 0 0 comments | 403 403 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Rafael Espinal began his tenure as the executive director of the Freelancers Union in March, he saw the role as a great opportunity to continue the advocacy work he did as a member of the City Council.

“I came in with a vision of spending the next 12 months expanding the union’s political reach, expanding the social safety net and replicating all the work that’s been done across the city,” he said.

Within two weeks on the job, however, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the city.

“It forced me to reprioritize my agenda because this pandemic has severely impacted freelancers financially,” Espinal said.

The former Brooklyn lawmaker said freelancers are uniquely impacted by the crisis because their income depends on the ability to have work and contracts.

“When businesses shut down, those opportunities dried up,” he said. “It has been a very confusing and scary time for workers.”

Espinal said he worked around the clock calling elected officials in New York City and Washington to ensure the stimulus package included language to extend unemployment benefits to freelancer workers.

The group also created a freelancers relief fund to deliver assistance to workers who are struggling to make ends meet.

But Espinal noted that with the cost of living in major cities like New York still high, more needs to be done to help his members. In a survey with more than 5,000 respondents, over 70 percent of members said they lost work due to the pandemic. Over 90 percent expect that to be the trend moving forward.

Espinal, who has only been at the helm for a month, is planning to host a town hall at some point to check in with his members.

“We have our finger on the pulse,” he said.
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