New California Bill Sends Freelancers Scrambling

By Nicole Russell
Nicole Russell
Nicole Russell
October 23, 2019Updated: October 23, 2019


California freelancer writers are bracing for the impact of a new law about to take effect, which will undoubtedly have a negative impact on their careers and lifestyles.

Lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) in September. The law codifies Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court, a California Supreme Court decision that established a test for independent contractors. The law essentially limits when and how workers can be classified as independent contractors rather than employees by companies in the state.

AB5 was initially considered a provision that would stave off some of the downsides of navigating the gig economy—the labor market that entails mostly short-term contracts or freelance work rather than a permanent job.

Lawmakers presumed the law would help people who drive for companies such as Lyft and Uber, who have been fighting for better minimum-wage laws and other benefits, but had little leverage since they were technically considered “independent contractors.”

However, as it turns out, the law also limits how many articles freelance writers can submit to publications whose central mission is to produce news to—wait for it—35 per year per “putative employer.”

This aspect of the law, which reeks of an authoritarian nanny state if I’ve ever seen one—and can undoubtedly only help unions—has sent California-based freelancers scrambling. Writers have reacted with disdain, even outrage, on social media.

President Ronald Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” He had a point, and this new law demonstrates it aptly.

For starters, lawmakers never should have intervened to help Uber and Lyft drivers. In business, as in life, there are pros and cons to being an independent contractor. Many, many people work in these circumstances purposely, and for good reasons. Many, many employers only hire independent contractors for good reasons, as well.

If a worker driving occasionally for Uber wanted Uber to treat him differently, he should petition the company himself to produce change—or quit and find more suitable employment. Petitioning the government to intervene on your behalf is kind of like a middle schooler asking a parent for help with homework: Depending on the parent, he could get too much help, or not enough—and both can end up, frankly, disastrous.

This particular law most definitely adversely affects freelance writers, many of whom have chosen that route—rather than to work full time for a specific publication—because of the freedom and flexibility such a position provides. I have been a freelance writer for years and it’s allowed me to be a steady, hands-on mom to four children. I can help with homework, be home when a child is ill, or make an emergency trip to the doctor because of my flexible job. Contract employment also tends to reward hard work, although that’s not always the case.

The specifics of this bill are so nonsensical that the only explanation is a government official had to have penned it. Most writers submit 35 pieces every four to six weeks or so (some in even less time), and even if the law allows for writers to submit 35 pieces per publication, it’s still such an arbitrary cap that one wonders how lawmakers even determined that number, let alone decided that should be their duty at all.

Indeed, the most bizarre, even unethical, aspect of this law is that any lawmaker thinks they should cap any freelance writer’s work, regardless of whether it would help or hurt (and it’s so obviously harmful, I can’t see how it would appear otherwise). It’s simply not within their scope of interest or expertise.

California’s new law, AB5, might help Uber and Lyft drivers but simultaneously hurt freelance writers. The state, which is prone to extensive overreach when it comes to government, would be better off letting the market take its course when it comes to independent contractors and their work.

Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.