California’s New ‘Gig Worker’ Law Will Hurt Freelancers

California’s New ‘Gig Worker’ Law Will Hurt Freelancers

California’s New ‘Gig Worker’ Law Will Hurt Freelancers

Intended to protect Uber, Lyft, and other exploited contract workers, the new statute will severely damage writers, photographers, and artists.


There’s a lot to choose from regarding the Signal for this column: There’s the ongoing fallout from Trump’s assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani—from missile strikes on US bases in Iraq to the apoplectic response of Republican Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul to the administration’s end-run around Congress’s war-making powers. Alienating key GOP senators might not be the smartest strategy now for Trump, who awaits a Senate trial after his House impeachment. In fact, it could be as dumb as assassinating the second most powerful man in Iran in order to promote world peace.

But, like the Senate trial, the Iran misadventure is probably going to dominate the news cycle in the coming weeks, so here are some other things worth paying attention to.

On the good-news front: After two federal appeals courts struck down lower-court injunctions blocking the administration’s new “public charge” rules for immigrants and would-be immigrants late last year, on Wednesday a New York appeals court upheld the third nationwide injunction. It largely got lost in all the Noise, but this ruling means that for now, the administration remains blocked in its efforts to use regulatory “reforms” to enact a wholesale restructuring of US immigration priorities to favor the affluent and lock out the poor.

Jenny Rejeske, interim advocacy director of the National Immigration Law Center, explained the Trump/Stephen Miller public charge effort as being “about sending one message: If you’re not white and you’re not wealthy, you’re not welcome. That’s against the law and, more importantly, it’s wrong.” At least some courts have reached the same conclusion.

On the bad-news front: California’s poorly worded AB5, a law ostensibly intended to rein in huge companies like Uber and Lyft, which have exploited vast pools of contract laborers in lieu of benefited employees, kicked in on January 1. The law has a good intent: to protect these workers and others like them by reclassifying them as employees entitled to benefits rather than as independent contractors. But the law will also affect self-employed people across the economic spectrum. For example, it limits freelance writers to 35 contributions per year to any one publication, thus at a stroke putting all columnists, weekly cartoonists, etc. at risk.

Many groups with powerful lobbies behind them, such as doctors, managed to carve out exemptions in the wording of the bill; and Uber itself is largely refusing to cooperate with the new law, banking on its ability to overturn it via ballot initiative later this year. However, many other, less well-represented groups, including artists, writers, photographers, and other staples of California’s creative economy, did not get exemptions. They now find themselves on the wrong end of AB5, looking to the courts for legal redress.

This week, independent truckers secured an emergency temporary restraining order so they could keep driving in California. But a judge in Los Angeles refused to issue similar relief on behalf of freelance writers and photographers. So unless another court rules on their behalf, thousands of writers and artists in the state (disclosure: I live in California) could end up having to massively reduce their workloads so as not to run afoul of these new regulations. This ill-considered law will end up economically hobbling huge numbers of freelance and self-employed workers.

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