That’s how an article from the San Francisco Chronicle labels the new law. It’s been a rough start to 2020 for many workers in California. The new year brought the implementation of California’s new gig law, Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). Designed to target the gig economy, specifically companies such as Uber and Lyft that rely on an army of independent contractors to provide the company’s services to customers, AB5 will have broad-reaching effects upon gig work in California.
If companies are forced to reclassify more workers as employees, a huge swath of independent contractors will be laid off to provide the funds for the benefits of these full-time employees. And importantly, workers’ choices will be limited. Not every worker desires to be a full-time employee, and many value the flexibility of gig work.
AB5 has three strict conditions that must be met in order to classify a worker as an independent contractor instead of an employee. One condition requires that the contractor perform “work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” This condition has been an issue for many independent contractors in the state as they find that they will be unable to continue providing their services and maintaining the flexibility they enjoy as independent contractors.
Despite mounting pushback from independent contractors, this law was enacted in the name of “workers’ rights.” The law seeks to help independent contractors who are ineligible to receive traditional benefits that come with full-time employment. In theory, contractors who were doing the work of traditional full-time employees would be reclassified as such and would have access to sick leave, unemployment benefits, healthcare and more.
But as is so often the case, the well-intended new law is backfiring on those it was intended to help. Workers have found that instead of helping them, AB5 is threatening their work opportunities.
For example, freelance writers and photographic journalists have been given “relief” from the law and are allowed to submit 35 pieces to any one media outlet per year. Lawmakers are championing this allowance, arguing that, without it, non-employees would be unable to provide any submissions to publications. CNN reports that some publishers “requested the submissions camp be pushed to at least 52 per year in order to cover weekly columnists.” But those in Sacramento have stood by their cap, despite admitting it is somewhat arbitrary.
Not only are freelancers losing income because their submissions are limited per outlet, some media groups have laid off hundreds of freelancers and have hired a much smaller number as full-time employees. Others are strictly adhering to the regulations and are simply finding more freelancers to work for them. Still others are deciding to simply seek their workers in other states or countries, cutting California freelancers out completely.
Workers affected by AB5 have taken to Twitter to voice their complaints and band together to fight this new law that is destroying their livelihoods. At the same time, Uber and Lyft are suing in response to the law, and are working to put a referendum on California’s ballots later this year that would exempt ride-share companies from AB5. The American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association have also brought a lawsuit, claiming that the law unconstitutionally affects free speech and the media.
At the moment, a lawsuit brought by independent truckers is the only one to obtain relief for the workers. Reason reports that while a federal judge did not find that truckers passed the conditions put in place by AB5, the conditions themselves “‘clearly run afoul’ of federal law.” Thus, even though independent truckers do not pass the test, they are protected by a specific federal law in place.
With workers from so many industries seeking relief and exemptions from the new law, it’s clear that it’s simply a bad law. Many gig workers in California are losing income each day because of AB5. Hopefully, California will realize the terrible effects that AB5 is having on its workforce and stop destroying the job opportunities of its enterprising residents.
Charlotte Whelan is a policy research assistant at Independent Women’s Forum, a leading national women’s organization.