Passed into law with little fanfare last September on a party-line vote, and fully in effect since January 1 of this year, California’s AB5 legislation is doing exactly what critics said it would do: Throw the state’s most vulnerable workers out of work.
Ostensibly aimed at giant companies like Uber and Lyft, whose ride-sharing programs rely on contract or “gig” workers, AB5’s pernicious effects have hit hard on writers, musicians, photographers, teachers, nurses, and even Santa Claus.
Jerry Tamburino, a drummer with a band in Northern California, earns extra money during the holidays as a mall Santa. He says that the agency he works through “is compensated by a percentage of my earnings so cannot afford to claim me as their employee.” AB5, he says, “has thrown this end of my work into complete confusion,” and that he “may have to stop being the Santa for thousands of children if AB5 is not altered or repealed.” His band is in trouble, too. “We will have to stop performing since there is no way for the band to claim us as employees,” he warns.
Are you a trucker who worked your ass off to buy your own rig and set your own hours? Under AB5, you’re out of luck.
— Coalition of DMV Motor Carrier Permit Holders (@CoalitionMcph) March 5, 2020
But unless you’re a union member — or more likely, a generous union boss — AB5 author Lorena Gonzales (D-Oceanside) doesn’t want to hear from you.
Assemblymember Lorena Gonzales office just HUNG UP ON ME! They didn't want to hear about the teaching gig I lost today or how AB5 has devastated my income as a mom and gig artist of 30 years. #FixAB5 #SupportArtists
— Elizabeth Tobias (@eatacupcake) February 11, 2020
The arts have been hit particularly hard.
Elissa Jill Lieberman, an artist, educator, and owner of a small art school in San Diego, wrote on Facebook on Thursday that “it’s the end of an era at the San Diego Art Loft.” She says:
The current business climate in California has been difficult to navigate as the state bill AB5 was enacted in January. Art teachers can only be hired as full employees and no longer on contract, making arts both visual, performing, even healing arts like yoga studios difficult to maintain.
Running an art teaching studio with one teacher will not allow for growth. So, instead of closing the doors to this well loved studio, I hope to find other experts who want to teach their classes and workshops in the studio for a facility rental fee. I would love to hear your ideas.
If anyone is interested in renting this gallery space I am about to surrender, it is a great deal but it attached to my studio and must use my restroom and sink. But, I would love to find someone rather than letting it go to a stranger so please message me.
It sounds like the kind of space that ordinarily might be rented by another independent contractor, except the most likely renters are in the same predicament Leiberman is in. You have to wonder if she’ll be forced to close the whole thing down.
At the Marin Independent Journal yesterday, Petaluma resident Julie Wilder published an op-ed on what AB5 has done to her husband’s work. She says he “makes his living with two jobs — as a freelance musician and a court reporting transcriptionist,” but that “AB5 has gutted one of those livelihoods altogether, and the other is tenuous at best.” On a visit to their local state assemblyman, Marc Levine (D), who voted for AB5, they asked what he was doing to fix the law. “Sitting on my hands,” he told them.
You might think that with COVID-19 breaking out all over, the Democrat-dominated state assembly would give public safety a higher priority than a union-pleasing bit of job-killing legislation…
…who am I kidding? Of course you wouldn’t believe that.
Kevin Kiley, one of the few Republicans left in the California Assembly, last week pushed AB 1928, which “would repeal those existing provisions and instead require a determination of whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor to be based on the specific multifactor test set forth in Borello, including whether the person to whom service is rendered has the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired, and other identified factors. The bill would make related, conforming changes.”
The bill was intended to go into effect immediately but failed to pass in a lopsided, 15-50 vote — again on party lines.
To all whose lives remain upended because of the choices made by CA lawmakers today, I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll keep fighting for relief from #AB5 in every way I can. Hopefully one day we can bring some decency back to California government.
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) February 27, 2020
Kiley is now working on a new bill that would effectively suspend AB5 until next year, but that too seems like a longshot.
If there’s one thing everyone should agree to, it’s an #AB5 Grace Period. My new bill, #AB2075, provides this modest relief: no one is subject to AB 5 before 2021. Meanwhile, I'll keep advancing #AB1928 (Repeal) as the permanent solution.
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) March 5, 2020
Uber is riding out the storm through stealth price hikes, but independent contractors who don’t have Uber’s deep pockets aren’t so lucky.
My wife suddenly developed severe gastrointestinal symptoms. I’ve spent the last two weeks in the hospital or driving her to medical appointments. I do not say this for sympathy but because as a #freelancer I can take the time, work later. #AB5 kills that flexibility. #RepealAB5
— 78tiger (@78tiger) March 5, 2020
In putting this column together, I’ve gone out of my way to select stories from people who seemed likely to be Democrats, liberals, or progressives. That’s because fighting AB5 should be a completely bipartisan or even nonpartisan effort. AB5 attacks the very foundation of American entrepreneurialism: The God-given right to make your own way in the world on your own terms, as best you’re able.
And Americans do just that in huge numbers. As Wilder noted in her column I linked to earlier in this piece, “Thirty-six percent of American workers are freelancers. There are 56.7 million independent contractors in the U.S. contributing more than one trillion dollars to the US economy.”
You might think that going against that many independent-minded workers would be the last thing any Democrat in Washington would want to do, but…
…here we go again…
…of course you wouldn’t think that.
Back in January, the Democrat-controlled House quietly inserted AB5’s exact language — a literal copy & paste job, according to Red State’s Kira Davis — into H.R. 2474. In February, the bill passed Nancy Pelosi’s House, again on a party-line vote.
All H.R. 2474 needs to become law, to do to the nation what AB5 is doing to California, is a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president.
56.7 million Americans ought to vote Republican this November as though their very livelihoods depend upon it.
Because they do.