Launch of Canadian guild for freelancers a baptism by fire

2020.06.05

Writer Lesley Buxton Writer Lesley Buxton paid a non-member fee to participate in a webinar, then signed up with the CFG immediately afterward because it offered professional development opportunities. (Photo: Monique de St-Croix)

RACHEL SANDERS

As if building a new association weren’t a daunting enough task, the Canadian Freelance Guild’s launch this spring was complicated by a global health crisis.

When the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic in mid-March, the CFG transition team was in the process of merging the memberships of two different organizations and getting a website up and running.

Organizer Don Genova said he and technical contractor George Butters, a founding member of the CFG, kept their heads down and stayed focused on the gargantuan task in front of them.

“We spent hours and hours in Zoom sessions as we inched towards the launch with a thousand different arms of an octopus to put in order,” said Genova. “George kept stressing that this new organization needed to be part of the whole digital transformation that has seized the world, and he brought me along for the ride. The fact that COVID-19 was raging around us didn’t matter.”

The CFG comprises two groups of freelancers that came together to form a new organization within CWA Canada. Members of the Professional Writers Association of Canada voted in January to merge with the independent members of the Canadian Media Guild’s freelance branch, of which Genova had been president for 20 years.

The CFG officially launched on April 1 and, despite reports that many freelancers were losing work, member sign-ups rolled in quickly. Now, less than two months later, the CFG is at 340 members, just 10 short of its goal.

Within the first few days of April, Genova and Butters mounted webinars on podcasting, Zoom and freelance finances during the pandemic. All have been well received and some attracted new members.

Writer Lesley Buxton, of Penticton, B.C., is one of them. Buxton paid a non-member fee to participate in the podcasting webinar and joined the CFG immediately afterwards. She said the promise of further professional development opportunities hooked her.

Freelancers “have to be learning all the time, and it seemed like that was a possibility with this organization,” said Buxton.

She said another attraction of the CFG is access to help with freelance contracts.

Most important, the guild offers a way for freelancers to connect.

“Nowadays, the way freelancing is going, and the way people are treating writers, I think it’s really important to be in a community,” she said.

In addition to webinars, the CFG has worked quickly to launch website features of value to freelancers, including a job bank and a member-to-member forum called the Digital Deli. Response from members has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s really been incredible,” said Genova. “The kudos we’ve received from a number of members who have appreciated everything we’ve been able to do have been very rewarding.”

There are more webinars and website resources in the works. Ultimately, said Genova, the goal of the CFG is to advocate with employers and governments on extending rights that self-employed workers deserve along with their more traditional counterparts.

The CFG will hold an official AGM in October, when it will elect its first executive and ratify the new organization’s bylaws and policies.

(Rachel Sanders is a freelance writer and broadcaster based in Vancouver. She is the editor of Story Board, the CFG’s blog for Canadian freelancers.)

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