The New York Times
Friday 18 May 2007
Helped by start-up money from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Service Employees International Union has created a nonprofit organization that plans to help young workers who lack health insurance and are saddled with debt.
The nonprofit, Qvisory Tools for Life, will provide health insurance and financial advice and will begin doing so this fall, largely through its Web site, qvisory.org. Qvisory plans to give career advice and have blogs and forums in which workers 18 though 35 can discuss jobs and various services.
Eileen Quigley, the organization's chief executive, said, "What's new about Qvisory is it's an attempt to pull together in one place tools and advocacy for the emerging work force."
Ms. Quigley, who previously was an executive with the software company RealNetworks, said Qvisory would charge fees to participants that would vary depending on the services requested.
Andrew Stern, president of the 1.8-million-member service employees' union, said he hoped Qvisory might get its members to make themselves heard the way MoveOn.org does. Qvisory, which is open to union members and nonmembers, is likely to promote issues like higher minimum wage, broader health coverage and greater government support of child care, he said.
"We're in a world where 18-to-34-year-olds have 9 to 12 jobs by the time they're 35," Mr. Stern said. "This new effort is seeking to be a safety net for these young people as they move from job to job."
The service employees' union put up $500,000 to create Qvisory, and the Rockefeller Foundation announced yesterday that it had committed $1 million to the new group.
Mr. Stern said it made sense for his union to undertake this because unions had to find new ways of serving workers - even when they were not union members.
"We've done a lot of research," he said, "and we've learned that the three things young people are concerned about are finance, finance and finance."
Mr. Stern said Qvisory would help his union in several ways. Many of the union's young members, be they nurses or home-health aides, want advice on finances, and those workers can turn to Qvisory. And many older members would be happy to see the new group help their children. This, he said, will make it easier for his union to stick to its focus: organizing workers, collective bargaining and politics.
Qvisory, which is based in Seattle, is negotiating with health insurers about which health plans it will offer and with financial companies about savings plans and low-interest-rate credit cards.
Mr. Stern said his union had no intention of pushing Qvisory's members to lobby on issues that they might not be excited about, like labor's No. 1 legislative objective, a bill that would make it easier to unionize workers.
"What I've learned, for better or worse, is that when it comes to an online community, they lead you, you don't lead them," Mr. Stern said. "People don't come back if they think they're being used."
Qvisory plans to reach out to college graduates and to nongraduates, but one problem is that those without college degrees do not embrace online services and communities as readily as college graduates do.
"In our market research," Ms. Quigley said, "the acceptance and rate of interest among those who are less well-off and have less education is extremely high, and that is extremely exciting. But we're going to have to work hard to reach out to them."