California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 last month, which could reclassify millions of independent contract workers in California as employees. Despite the bill’s effort to protect freelance workers, AB 5 may actually prevent these workers from job opportunities.
AB 5, also known as the “gig worker bill,” notably targets “gig” employers such as Uber and Lyft, who classify their drivers as contract workers. By forcing these employers to reclassify their drivers as employees, AB 5 attempts to provide mandatory benefits that these freelance workers would not otherwise receive. However, AB 5 also restricts these freelance workers from continuing to receive compensation on a case-by-case basis.
This restriction may have many negative consequences for the industries that AB 5 has recently expanded to apply to, such as freelance writers, as AB 5 limits the number of times a freelance worker can submit work to a business to 35 times per year.
“[The AB 5 limitation] seems pretty random actually,” commented Sandy Tolan, an Annenberg journalism professor and freelance journalist. “Why would you come up with 35? There are 52 weeks in the year, there’s 365 days, there’s 12 months. What is 35, three a month?”
While Tolan acknowledges an understanding of the law’s intent to protect freelancers, he expressed concern about the potential consequences the bill will have for workers in certain industries, such as journalism.
“For people [freelance journalists] who, say, file one or two stories a week, it's going to be devastating,” said Tolan. “And I really think that there could be a better way to think this through [or] have an exemption for journalists.”
Concern was also expressed over the way the law is written.
“They’re going to be able to protect these people who are working under these brands like Uber and Lyft, which is comforting,” said Freelance brand strategist and commercial model Asa Dugger. “But it’s also a little scary because the law is very vague. No one has really clarified what the gig economy really is.”
While the bill is not set to go into effect until January 2020, with over a quarter of America’s workforce taking part in the gig economy, AB 5 is bound to have a massive impact on California workers.