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Brian Hamilton: When our games return

Not even an offer to pick a card, any card, from a stack of 1980s Houston Astros?

He’d made up his mind, and no baseball card — not even a coveted Billy Doran — would get him to reconsider. Walter Ford was moving on, moving forward, and leaving his post for nearly a decade as The Union’s sports editor.

Of course, I made light of the moment because it was a heavy one — for Walter, for our newsroom, the entire paper and as well for yours truly.

And so it was wonderful to see such a warm response from the community for Walter, with words of encouragement and gratitude, when he shared the news over the weekend he was stepping away from the sports desk.

So many shared thanks for his years of service, his skill in storytelling and his commitment to covering all aspects of our community’s sports scene. Those were certainly on display in his published work, but he also deserves thanks for all those late nights in the newsroom or on the road, the work that kept him away from his daughters and wife on weekends and also the absolute professionalism he brought each and every day.

Maybe it’s due to the nature of the beat and his passion for it, but there was no better example of teamwork in the newsroom than on the sports desk, with Walt always willing to lend a hand elsewhere whether proofing a finished page or covering the coronavirus pandemic.

And anyone who’d question his teamwork clearly hasn’t seen the shots off his shins that he’s walked off while pitching slow-pitch softball. Talk about taking one for the team.

It’s just who he is.

So while we’re sad to see Walter go, we are glad he’s staying here in his hometown and finding new ways to continue his commitment to the community. And we certainly hope that someday down the road, when our sports scene is no longer at a standstill, we’ll once again see his byline back in the paper.

But if not, we’ll look forward to chatting it up in the cheap seats, just enjoying a game with no notebooks or pens in hand, when our games do return.

SIDELINED BY AB 5

There are a few more bylines, of frequent and valued contributors to the paper, that we’ll be missing in weeks ahead, as a state law essentially geared to classify Uber and Lyft drivers as employees has resulted in putting freelance writers — and independent contractors in myriad industries across the state — out of work.

The 2019 law requires a three-part test to determine whether a worker is allowed to be an independent contractor. As an exemption, freelance writers were limited to being paid for 35 works from a single publisher.

And that’s why we’ll soon have to say goodbye to the work of weekly freelancers Lorraine Jewett and Hollie Grimaldi Flores, as well as cartoonist John Carr — at least until January 2021 or when state legislators come to their senses, whichever comes first.

Here’s hoping it’s the latter, considering the state of California’s one-size-fits-all approach to this law — and far too often, much of its legislation — is limiting the ability of people to make a living.

Most frustrating is that supporters of the law, even its author, have acknowledged AB 5 needs to be fixed — including the removal of the 35-works cap on freelancers — due to its unintended impact and collateral on Californians. It’s not just gig economy workers, newspaper carriers and freelance writers caught up in the broad brush approach.

“(H)aving heard additional feedback from a variety of freelance writers, photographers and journalists,” said Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the bill’s author, “we are making changes to Assembly Bill 5 that accommodate their needs and still proved protections from misclassification.”

That was February.

More than five months later this law is now putting even more people out of work, amid a pandemic that has resulted in record spikes of unemployment with a state system struggling to provide support for those who need it.

Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at bhamilton@theunion.com or 530-477-4249.


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