AB 5, the controversial independent contractor redefinition bill, has become closer to allowing numerous exemptions through two bills awaiting passage in the Senate.
More exemptions under AB 1850 and AB 2257
Assembly Bill 1850 and Assembly Bill 2257, both authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D), received unanimous approval by the Assembly last week, with many Senators indicating that similar landslide votes are probable in the coming weeks. The disruptions to freelance and independent contractor jobs, especially in the wake of the coronavirus and economic downturn pushing unemployment above 20% have caused many Democrats to join Republicans to oppose or further limit AB 5 in recent months.
“The bills are her last ditch effort at saving AB 5, or at least keeping AB 5 in line to make more people employees,” said “Dana,” who works at the State Capitol. “Freelance journalists in particular have been raising hell against the bill, and have had CNN, Fox News, AP, and even the BBC report on how many journalists have been limited by the bill.”
“It’s made much more news that it would have without the 35 article limited for freelancers, and people for AB 5 don’t want that kind of heat on them going into November.”
“Plus it’s been taking away many jobs for journalists, photographers, musicians, entertainers, and everyone else covered in these bills. It’s no wonder everyone has been all for these bills. AB 5 was Gonzalez’s bill, and both of these are too, so it’s correcting a giant mistake on her part.”
AB 1850 would exempt freelance and independent contractor journalists and photographers from AB 5 while also removing the debilitating “35 articles a year” rule for non-employee freelance journalists. Meanwhile, AB 2257 would exempt many musicians, writers, photo and video editors, translators, promoters, and other similar positions and guarantee their independent statues from being affected by AB 5.
“Having heard additional feedback from a variety of freelance writers, photographers and journalists, we are making changes to Assembly Bill 5 that accommodate their needs and still provide protections from misclassification,” said Assemblywoman Gonzalez earlier this year of the bills. She has since refined the bills further through dozens of discussions with freelance and independent contractor groups.
Backlash against AB 5
California Freelance Writers United, several photographer groups, and other profession groups named in the two bills have been for the exemptions, citing AB 5 being unfair and arbitrary.
“She had no idea how different we work and rely on income,” said Stan Lowe, a freelance photographer. “It’s not like we’re hourly. We’re on a commission basis, or a by-article basis. Limiting on how many we can do per year would be like putting on a salary cap of $15,000 a year in a ‘real’ job.”
“She even said
how the 35 article limit was ‘arbitrary‘. You just can’t mess with people’s lives like that and use random numbers in bills like that. You destroy lives that way. My income personally fell after AB 5, and I’ve had to take second or third jobs whereas before I only needed this one.”
“We’re not going to forget this happened to us, and I think Gonzalez knows this.”
Assemblyman Jay Obernolte. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)
Some lawmakers are also calling for more exemptions and an end to AB 5 all together despite the probable changes to AB 5.
Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear) pointed out on Tuesday that the exemptions are only improvements to AB 5 and not a fix for companies.
“Thirty years ago, I started a company out of my college dorm room; I can tell you with 100% certainty I would not have been able to do that had AB 5 been the law of the land,” said Assemblyman Obernolte.
Other industries are also threatening to weaken the bill further. Ride share companies, who have been at the crux of the AB 5 change and whose employment policies sparked the most changes with the ABC tests of independent contractors and employees, may also also be pulling out. A ballot initiative to formally exempt them from AB 5 is
currently set for a November vote. Should it pass along with the two bills in the Senate, AB 5 would have most of the major industries and jobs it had originally sought to protect in under a year. A few court cases, while currently swinging towards AB 5’s favor, could also remove AB 5 entirely should it be decided by a judge.
“Right now AB 5 is under siege, and everyone who had been for it last year are still being caught off guard by all the hatred towards it,” added Dana. “Soon there won’t be much more that they can chip away at or fight for.”
AB 1850 and AB 2257 are currently awaiting Senate hearings and votes. Both bills have until the end of August to be passed and sent to the Governor for his signing or veto.