Around 300 writers, translators, musicians, dancers, and other California creatives gathered on the steps of the California State Capitol in Sacramento Tuesday morning calling for the state legislature to repeal the California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) that took effect January 1, 2020.
The new law requires many employers to reclassify many gig workers as employees. Once an independent contractor gets labeled an employee, the employer must meet minimum wage standards, pay overtime, and provide sick days. The rally had been organized by two Republican members of the California State Assemby, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez. All the day’s speeches are archived at the livestream link on Facebook.
“You will have to realize what a failure of leadership AB5 was,” said Kiley, speaking to the lawmakers who supported AB5’s passage last year. “You should also realize what a display of statesmanship it would be to now accept responsibility and correct course.” Melendez argued that the repeal movement should transcend political boundaries. “It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, because politics doesn’t matter today. This bill affects everyone across all political lines,” she said.
The rally counted eight speakers, including novelist and journalist Walter Kirn. During his speech, Kirn said the law has already had a chilling effect on smaller publications. “You only hear the voices of the big organizations that can afford to comply with any law,” he said. “Our culture has already started drying up and turning brown like a leaf. The freelance world, whether it’s a court reporter, translator, interpreter, freelance writer or musician, has poured water on the culture to keep it alive. Without AB5's repeal, it is going to dry up and blow away.”
Speakers also took issue with some of AB5’s many exceptions. According to the new law, for “services provided by a freelance writer, editor, or newspaper cartoonist,” an employer must consider the number of “content submissions” an independent contractor makes each year. As long as the freelance writer or editor makes less than 35 “content submissions” a year, they can still be labeled an independent contractor.
“That threshold is so bizarre and ruinous, it doesn't make sense to anybody,” said consumer finance journalist and author Erica Sandberg during the rally. “The fallout so far is that clients are frightened to work with California based-professionals because the law is so murky.”
While she did not attend the rally, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) CEO Angela Bole urged publishers to take a measured response to the new law. “You can and you should sign contracts with California independent contractors,” said Bole in a phone conversation the day of the rally. “But it’s important to understand the new law when doing so.” The IBPA leader said her organization has been helping publishers cope with the new requirements and urged concerned publishers and authors to read an essay by Jonathan Kirsch in the Jan/Feb 2020 IBPA Independent magazine, “California's New Labor Law, AB-5, and What It Means for Publishers.”
Earlier this week, Kiley delivered copies of “AB5 Stories” to California lawmakers in Sacramento. The bound PDF contains testimonials from nearly 200 workers affected by the new law, including around 20 freelance writers, editors, and authors, each only identified by first name. “Working freelance has allowed me to raise my daughter from the day she came home from the hospital to the present (she’s 10),” wrote Paul, who has worked as a freelance writer and editor for 25 years. “AB5 will force me to leave jobs that I’ve held for over a decade and join a growing pool of other freelancers who are grabbing at the few freelance jobs that will be left for us.”
“What’s giving me hope is how so many people throughout the state have stepped up to share their stories,” said Kiley. “If that’s not enough to compel political change, I don’t know what is.”