Opinion Aug 29, 2020 2:00 PM EST

California to reverse course on anti-freelancers bill—will Biden pull support for the federal version?

Eight months after AB5 became law, its primary sponsor and advocate is amending and clarifying the bill that made it near impossible for freelancers in any industry to work in California.

California to reverse course on anti-freelancers bill—will Biden pull support for the federal version?
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY
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After realizing that the law she had enacted to force Californians to unionize instead disenfranchised them of their right to earn a living on their own terms, state assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has changed her tune on AB5.

Eight months after AB5 became law, its primary sponsor and advocate is amending and clarifying the bill that made it near impossible for freelancers in any industry to work in California.

The original iteration of AB5, which was opposed by workers and corporations that operate within the gig economy, including everyone from musicians and writers to Uber drivers and tutors, limited the ability of freelancers to sell their services outside the confines of an employment infrastructure.

Photojournalists and freelance writers were limited to selling work no more than 35 times to one outlet within a calendar year, while Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, PostMates, and all the other companies within the booming gig economy were meant to hire on their drivers and delivery personnel, whether those workers wanted to be classified that way or not.

The basis of AB5, which was written with help and input from the AFL-CIO, was to have a clear distinction between that work that could be performed by freelancers and that which must be done by people under a more traditional employment contract.

To wit, it made use of a rule called the ABC test (courtesy of the California Supreme Court ruling in Dynamex), which stated that "a worker can be considered a freelancer and not an employee if the boss can't tell her what to do; if she isn't providing the product that is sold; and so long as her contract doesn't prohibit her from working with other entities."

The sheer number of changes that Gonzalez has proposed to the law show how ill-conceived it was. Yet this is the basis for the law that Joe Biden and other Democrats in Congress have vowed to push through—the PRO Act. In fact, the head of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumpka, has demanded that lawmakers back this bill or lose funding from big labour.

Joe Biden was in favour of the CA bill, and urged Californians to vote against their own interests and independence. The Federalist's Ben Domenech noted, correctly, that AB5 made it harder to hire Californians.

After intensive backlash for more than a year, Gonzalez proposed revisions and exemptions to the law. She states that the law will be going to Governor Gavin Newsom's desk on Monday, where it will be immediately signed into law.

The revisions will make it possible for those engaged in occupations in connection with creating, marketing, promoting, or distributing sound recordings or musical compositions, musicians or musical groups, individual performance artists, still photographers, photojournalists, videographers, or photo editors, digital content aggregators, fine artists, freelance writers, translators, editors, content contributors, advisors, narrators, cartographers, producers, copy editors, illustrators or newspaper cartoonists, those involved in underwriting inspections and other services for the insurance industry, manufactured housing salespersons, people engaged by an international exchange visitor programs, consulting services, animal services, and competition judges with specialized skills, licensed landscape architects, specialized performers teaching master classes, registered professional foresters, real estate appraisers and home inspectors, and feedback aggregators to work under their own control in California again.

Yet while Gonzalez seems well pleased with her efforts, the damage to California freelancers has already been done.

After touting the law as a victory for workers everywhere in September, Vox cut hundreds of Californian jobs before the law went into effect—because the law Gonzalez passed, that Biden backs, made it impossible for Vox to hire Californian writers.

Leftist media outlet Vox wasn't the only company that stopped hiring Californians. Last week, Lyft cut 300,000 jobs in California due to this law. Tech companies have left the state in order to avoid the law. AB5 has not resulted in more job protections for Californians, it has simply resulted in less jobs.

And this is the law that Joe Biden wants to implement on a national level. Lorena Gonzalez does not have the right to disenfranchise hardworking Californians from their livelihoods—and she's finally realized it. This time last year, California freelancers were telling her, loudly, that this bill would decimate their ability to work. She didn't listen, waiting until the damage had been irreversibly done to even consider real changes.

In her effort to control how and when people work, Gonzalez has unleashed this nonsense upon not only California but on the country. It's bad for parents who work from home, caregivers, part time workers who set their own hours, creatives, giggers, and people who just want to earn extra cash through a side job. AB5 is the basis for Joe Biden's PRO Act. It was a disaster for California, and would be a nightmare for the United States.

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