With less than two weeks to go before AB 5 becomes law, and California experiencing widespread employment issues including a growing number of unemployed workers as a result, two New York lawmakers have pushed their almost identical bill to the next step in New York.
Drastic changes in California
Under AB 5 in California, the rules over what constitutes an independent contractor will be drastically changed. Many current ‘gig’ workers or freelance workers would be given greater benefits, have better access to work-paid healthcare, be covered under more laws, and could form unions more easily. However, the cost was placed directly on employees, many of which were small businesses or had flexible hours for employees. As a result, hours are being drastically reduced or limited for many workers, the amount of work they can produce has been drastically cut, tens of thousands of employees are facing unemployment or underemployment, and businesses have been closing.
It has even reached a point in California that two industries have already sued the state over AB 5, and a ballot measure to reverse the entire law is close to having enough signatures to appear on the November 2020 ballot.
While there are still supporters, such as AB 5 author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) and Governor Gavin Newsom, the new law has been seeing dropping support from Democrats because of the unemployment numbers and a reduction of the press in California due to the law hurting many freelance journalists and reporters. Support among Republicans has virtually been nil since the bills inception.
New York follows California’s lead
Despite AB 5’s effects in California, New York has decided to pull through with it’s own independent contractor bill. Written by New York Senator Robert Jackson (D-New York) and New York Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-New York), the proposed law is very similar to AB 5. It includes similar passages on collective bargaining rights for unions, more benefits, employer healthcare, and includes language that would redefine what independent contractors and employees really are.
Among the cuts in the bill are hours and the number of assignments a freelance worker can do, which threatens to harm the freelance journalist and writer industry as much as AB 5 will do in California.
While Senator Jackson’s office has said “Senator Jackson and Assembly member Glick’s bill will include special consideration for professions where workers would be negatively impacted by reclassification,” there has been no indication or writing in the bill that shows this.
Support from the Governor
Despite a strong indication that the same problems California has been facing will happen in the Empire State, Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has given his support of the bill.
“And I think in my opinion, forget the specifics, more people should be considered employees because what has been happening is companies have been going out of their way to hire independent contractors to get out of those obligations,” said Governor Cuomo in September after the bill was first announced to the public.
New York faces the same negatives as California
“We kept a close eye on California,” said New York labor attorney Stanley Leibowitz. “Uber drivers and other employees facing the same rut have been all for it. But a lot of small business owners are really apprehensive. A lot of restaurant owners too. I have talked with many small restaurant owners in Manhattan and Brooklyn and none of them want to let people go. But this Jackson bill is going to force them.”
When the Globe mentioned that New Yorkers were giving the exact same concerns many Californians were giving earlier this ear, Leibowitz responded “That doesn’t surprise me.”
“Freelance journalists are as big in Los Angeles and San Francisco as they are in New York,” added Leibowitz. “If we lose them here, that’s thousands and thousands of writers who can no longer pay the mortgage or pay the rent. And if it happens here, Massachusetts could be next. They usually follow us. That’s Boston. Connecticut and all the New York transients too. Illinois and Chicago? Or back out west in Oregon with Portland. That’s a lot of major population centers with a lot of freelance writers. We’re in the tens of thousands.
And that’s just one industry.”
The future of AB 5 and S6699A
While California currently has two lawsuits based on violations of the first and fourteenth amendment currently in California courts, New York currently has no such legal opposition as the bill is currently in committee.
AB 5 goes into effect in California beginning January 1st. S6699A in New York will go before the Senate and Assembly in Albany in early 2020.
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