—Doing What the Employer Used to Do
But Outside the Firm
As these examples show, many of the good things formerly associated with the employment contract can be provided by independent organizations. We call these independent organizations
, and we believe they represent one of the most
approaches to solving the challenges posed by the new work arrangements. Guilds can provide
and intangible support for workers, and at the same time, be
in an information economy where flexibility and the ability to adapt quickly are paramount. But unlike guilds of the Middle Ages or labor unions of the industrial era, these new organizations might not hold monopoly control over a profession or occupational
. Instead, in many cases, multiple guilds can be expected to
to provide services to a given group of workers.
Three primary types of organizations are positioned to assume the guild role:
-based worker associations; workforce
and workers; and
-based organizations with an interest in forwarding the interests of workers and firms in a particular geographic area.
Occupationally based groups—professional associations like the World Wide Web Artists' Consortium and unions like the Communications Workers of America— have as their mission forwarding the interests of collections of workers active in the same industry or possessing similar workplace skills. These organizations are logical candidates to step in and assume some of the roles formerly
Unions and professional associations already play these roles in film production and construction, two industries where free lancing is the norm. For example,
of the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) need to earn only $6,000 in a calendar year to qualify for full health benefits for the entire
year. In recognition of the short shelf-life of many actors' careers, the Guild also provides very generous pension benefits. In addition, SAG offers educational and professional development
to its members. To fund these services, SAG contracts stipulate that
pay a surcharge, which amounts to as much as 30 percent of actors' base pay, into the Guild's benefits fund. In the construction industry, workers often move from firm to firm when they finish one project and go on to the
. To accommodate these circumstances, construction trade unions offer their members fully portable health and pension benefits. Members can maintain one health plan and continue paying into the same pension fund, regardless of which firm employs them on a project.
SAG and the construction unions can serve as models for other occupationallybased groups looking to play a role in the flexible workplace of the twenty-first century. Other groups that may play an interesting future role university alumni associations, as well as "alumni" organizations comprised of former
of a firm.
Many firms that serve as an intermediary between
and workers, like the staffing firms and Web-based project brokers, have been been
about offering benefits and training, as well as attempting to create a sense of community, in a bid to become the psychological workplace home for the workers who affiliate with them. Such efforts have to date been directed primarily at highly skilled workers, whose
are sufficient to support the cost of such perks. Providing a comparable array of benefits to lower-paid workers has not proven as attractive to for-profit firms. As a result, non-profit community groups, sometimes aided by government subsidies, have been active at this end of the staffing market.