Bad Laws And The Best Of Intentions: Law Designed To 'Protect' Gig Workers May Destroy Journalism Freelancers
from the bad-ideas-done-badly dept
For years there have been arguments about the whole “gig work” economy, and how the various “gig workers” should be classified. Specifically, it historically came down to a question of whether or not they should be seen as contractors/freelancers or employees. Of course, the real answer should probably be “neither” and there should be a different classification altogether (if we must classify them). However, following a California Supreme Court ruling that found that the so-called “ABC Test” should be used for determining employment, California pushed for a law codifying that rule, which would, in theory, force tons of companies to reclassify contract/gig workers as “employees.” Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law last month with a signing statement that claimed it was to combat the “hollowing out of our middle-class…” and suggesting this will somehow help workers.
Of course, there’s what politicians say, and what their bills will actually do. And, so far, this bill, AB5, is looking like it will be a complete and utter disaster. First of all, on the side of gig workers for companies like Uber/Lyft/etc., those companies have already made it clear that they don’t think the law applies to them, even though they were the kinds of companies most often cited when discussing the law. On top of that, they’re pushing for a ballot measure that would effectively exempt them from the law even if it does apply to them (we’ve already discussed in the past just how ridiculous California’s ballot measure procedure is…).
So, there’s a damn good chance that this law won’t come close to impacting the types of workers everyone was told it was designed to benefit. Instead… who it might hurt most are… journalists. A huge part of the journalism world works with freelance journalists, and they’re now all realizing that the law may make journalism freelancing close to impossible. The author of AB5 had an apparently arbitrary and nonsensical standard applied to the bill concerning who would no longer qualify as a freelance journalist: anyone who writes more than 35 articles per year for a publication.
As for how lawmakers settled on the 35-submission figure, Gonzalez says that she and her team decided that a weekly columnist sounded like a part-time worker and so halved that worker’s yearly submissions. After protest from some freelancers, the number was bumped up to 35. “Was it a little arbitrary? Yeah. Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary,” she says.
That… is not good. When the lawmaker herself is admitting the process was effectively picking a number out of thin air and then making arbitrary adjustments. That’s bad. And journalists are quite reasonably freaking out:
This law would functionally make it illegal for me to do my job in California. @LorenaSGonzalez please rethink this.
— Jennifer Wright (@JenAshleyWright) October 19, 2019
California legislation that eliminates work opportunities for freelance journalists isn’t just bad policy, it’s a dangerous path toward less independent journalism and more partisan info warfare.
— ??Luis G?mez (@RunGomez) October 19, 2019
This is a good example of well-meaning gig economy reforms completely misunderstanding established industries. As a freelancer, I don?t want to be an employee and it wouldn?t work well for me https://t.co/SThWPAQFOP
— Haunted Adam Banks (@adambanksdotcom) October 19, 2019
I'm all for preventing exploitation but what's happening to freelancers in California right now is an absolute horror show. Capping "freelance articles" at twice per month based off some kind of "weekly column" metric? @LorenaSGonzalez has no clue how modern media actually works. https://t.co/a3UiNo7M0w
— Nick Kolakowski (@nkolakowski) October 18, 2019
California Assemblywoman @LorenaSGonzalez has launched a direct attack on press freedoms with her bill.
— Yashar Ali ???? (@yashar) October 19, 2019
The author of the bill, Lorena Gonzales, has been responding on Twitter aggressively defending the plan. She eventually felt enough pressure to admit that she’s open to change… but that they can’t be put in place until after the law goes into effect in January.
I will continue to work with freelancers, the industry & unions that represent writers to see if there are further changes that should be made, especially for digital quick jobs. But, this won?t get resolved just on twitter. And it can?t happen before January. 7/
— Lorena (@LorenaSGonzalez) October 20, 2019
Of course, that doesn’t ease any of the concerns of tons of journalism freelancers, especially in California, who are completely screwed by this “arbitrary” standard that completely messes up their ability to be journalism freelancers. Also this comes after she retweeted someone calling one of the freelance journalists calling out the problems of this bill “a selfish piece of shit.”
2. After I tweeted above, hundreds of freelance reporters have told CA Assemblywoman @LorenaSGonzalez how devastating her legislation will be
She?s responded defensively & retweeted this tweet calling me a ?selfish piece of shit?
She plans on running for Secretary of State btw pic.twitter.com/BIWmRmVWIU
— Yashar Ali ???? (@yashar) October 20, 2019
There are, clearly, good intentions behind this law. The concern about exploitation of workers by companies — especially giant multi-billion dollar operations — is a legitimate concern. But, as with so much that happens when you get politicians trying to write legislation without truly understanding what’s happening, you get an end result that that doesn’t solve the actual problem of exploitation, and only serves to make life worse for people who have the least power in the situation in the first place.