Our View: Assembly Bill 5 an out-of-touch overreach
R.L. Crabb isn’t looking for a full-time gig. Neither is John Hart.
Crabb, the sharp-witted cartoonist who creates the “It takes a village idiot” published on these pages, and Hart, The Union’s former photographer who retired after more than 50 years on the job, are freelancers by choice.
But if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs Assembly Bill 5, passed by the Assembly and Senate this week, they, and this newspaper, won’t have a choice but to limit their work published by The Union — and their ability to supplement their own income with their freelance “side hustles” that help pay the bills.
This bill codifies the 2018 “Dynamex” decision by the California Supreme Court which creates a new test to determine who is classified as an employee — a determination that’s always been made by the Internal Revenue Service for tax purposes.
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Not only are creators of newspaper content affected by the bill, but also the people who deliver your paper each morning, who also have long served as contracted workers to supplement their own incomes. Faced with taking on a new crew of full-time employees, some papers would turn to the postal service for delivery of what then would be day-old news. Such a move would mean less timely reporting, one of the key aspects of newsworthiness, and likely spur further declines in print circulation for papers across the state.
With the contraction of newsrooms throughout the industry, many journalists who’ve been laid off make a living through freelance work. But they now face the same limitations — an arbitrary cap of 35 pieces per year for a single company — that threaten the ability to earn an income as other impacted independent contractors. Crabb, for example, creates two editorial cartoons each week for The Union. That’s 104 versions of the “village idiot.” Under the bill, he’d have his published opinions, and earning potential with the paper, cut by two-thirds — all because a supermajority in Sacramento is applying a one-size-fits-all approach to re-classifying contractors as employees.
The focus of the bill’s impact has been on workers in gig economy jobs, along with Uber and Lyft drivers, but many more will be swept up in its approval. The Democrats who passed the bill say they’re protecting the workers. But in many ways, those workers’ ability to work and earn an income will be negatively impacted, hurting the very people they’re proposing to protect.
Seems to us like a great way to put people out of work and further damage the state’s economy.
Even as the Legislature passed the bill, it became clear it doesn’t fit for many industries, as the list of exempted professions continues to grow. Any bill that has so many exceptions can’t be a good one. And why not exempt all trades, not just those with organized opposition and the money to fund lobbyists on their behalf?
The partisan vote by the Legislature smacks of the anti-free market “nanny state” and “big brother” approach California liberals are so often ascribed. The notion of forcing all non-exempt independent contractors to be classified as employees — because politicians know better than workers actually signing the contract and doing the work — is insulting, stunts the entrepreneurship of small businesses and likely comes with real costs in the amount of available work for hire and the price of products passed on to consumers.
This bill, which now awaits the governor’s signature, shows how out of touch a supermajority can quickly become and also emphasizes the need for balance in our government.
As mentioned above, it also threatens the future of newspapers in California, particularly community newspapers like the one you’re reading.
The Union continues to grow its audience online at TheUnion.com — the top local provider of news in that medium. But as papers across the country, and our own region, have reduced frequency of publishing print editions to cut costs, the reality is that it’s print advertising and subscriptions that still pays the bills and funds the newsroom.
It’s also true that The Union is a locally relevant daily newspaper largely due to people like R.L. Crabb, John Hart and other community members who contribute to these pages — and the drivers who deliver their work to you door — as independent contractors.
On a weekend when we’re celebrating our Constitution, we’re reminded that the very freedoms Americans are bestowed by that document must continue to be fought for and protected from harm.
Please remind Gov. Newsom of that by sharing your opposition to this out-of-touch legislation at https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/.
Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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