Orange County Register: Assembly Bill 5 takes a sledgehammer to worker freedom

By Patricia Bates
Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Published by the Orange County Register on February 25, 2020

Your local newspaper and online newsfeed may soon have less content relative to where you live.

The California Legislature and the Governor approved Assembly Bill 5 that took effect this year. The new law has already caused many news publishers to cut ties with professional freelance journalists, photographers, and editors in California.

This is not because our state no longer has important news to cover. It is because this new law forces freelancers who wish to remain their own bosses to become employees of someone else in order to keep working as before.

California’s complex and costly employment laws are not something companies located outside the state want to deal with. Employers are frequent targets of lawsuits based on very small infractions of California’s hyper-specific and expansive laws.

Companies do not want to be hit with a lawsuit when all they have done is hire a freelance writer to cover a couple of stories or when they publish an unsolicited article a writer sent hoping it would get published.

The law sets an absurd and arbitrary limit on the number of stories a news organization can publish without turning a freelancer into an employee. That number is 35 pieces of content—articles, columns, restaurant reviews, or photo essays, which the American Society of Journalists and Authors says would be exhausted within the first few months of the year.

Even AB5’s author admitted that the 35-submission figure was subjective, saying “Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary.”

That is why AB5 needs to be repealed and replaced with a measure that protects Californians from misclassification but allows them to work the way they want to work. In other words, the Legislature should use a scalpel to help Californians who have been unfairly classified as freelancers, instead of using the AB5 sledgehammer approach that has ripped economic opportunities away from people who want to remain independent.

My Senate Republican colleagues and I have introduced a legislative package to address AB5, including Senate Bill 806 by Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove that would repeal and replace AB5 with a new test that would support more worker freedom and save business-to-business relationships. I also support AB 1928 by Assemblymembers Kevin Kiley and Melissa Melendez that would repeal AB5.

If the Legislature fails to repeal AB5, it should help as many Californians in various industries who wish to remain independent. These Californians include freelance interpreters, translators, musicians, franchisors, franchisees, and app-based drivers. That is why we have also introduced several bills to protect them and others that have been harmed by AB5.

I have authored Senate Bill 867 that would protect newspapers carriers and distributors, and Senate Bill 868 to exempt freelance journalists, photographers, editors, and videographers. Passing my legislation will help preserve quality journalism in many communities and ensure freelance journalists in California can continue to do what they love without worrying about the state government going after them.

The defenders of AB5 argue that they had to pass the bill because the California Supreme Court made a decision to impose a new test regarding who qualifies as an independent contractor. However, the Legislature could have chosen a different path from AB5 to address the Court’s decision. It did not need to pass a one-size-fits-all policy that contained numerous exemptions for various professionals. The arbitrary nature of who received exemptions and who did not reveals the unfairness of AB 5.

The Legislature should do no harm to our economy. Most independent contractors enjoy the flexibility and freedom that such work brings. Taking that flexibility and freedom away is wrong for people who want to be their own bosses and bad for the economy.

Californians deserve better from their state government than another law that would limit their economic opportunities. The Legislature must repeal and replace AB5.