How a law aimed at Uber and Lyft is hurting freelance writers

How a law aimed at Uber and Lyft is hurting freelance writers

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FILE – This Wednesday, June 21, 2017, file photo shows the building that houses the headquarters of Uber, in San Francisco. Uber acknowledged more than 3,000 sexual assaults occurred during U.S. Uber rides in 2018, the company said in a long-awaited safety report. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File) In September, the left-leaning media website Vox ran a triumphant headline about a bill that had just passed the California legislature: “Gig workers’ win in California is a victory for workers everywhere.” Assembly Bill 5, or AB5, would go into effect on Jan. 1, essentially making the gig economy illegal in the state. AB5 forbids businesses to use contractors unless the companies can pass a stringent requirement known as the “ABC test.” It’s designed to ensure that all workers are classified as employees unless they perform their work independent of supervision, have an established business doing the same sort of work for multiple customers and are doing work that isn’t part of the company’s core business. Meeting one or two of these requirements isn’t enough; you must meet all three. At the time of AB5’s passage, I noted that its aim was a mite quixotic, given that its primary targets, such as Uber and Lyft, were still unprofitable. If they couldn’t make a profit using drivers as contractors, it was hard to see how they could afford to turn the drivers into staffers with regular schedules, hourly pay and benefits. AB5 seemed more likely to drive these firms out of the state, taking their part-time jobs and their useful services with them. And not just gig-economy companies; in passing, I also noted that AB5 seemed to ban most freelance journalism. It turned out to be a bit more complicated than that; the legislature had actually created a special exception for journalists, allowing them to write 35 articles annually before they’d be considered employees. That still seemed unworkable to this journalist, and should have to anyone who’s ever been near a newsroom — the law would, for example, make it illegal to use a UCLA professor as a weekly columnist without taking on the prof as an employee. You can guess what’s coming next, can’t you? With Jan. 1 approaching, Vox Media, parent company of Vox.com, just announced that it will be laying off hundreds of freelancers in California. I mentioned my September remarks above not as a tiresome “I told you so” but to note that the effect on freelance writers isn’t some unanticipated side effect of the law. It was the predictable result of trying to force companies into a 9-to-5 employment model. That model just doesn’t fit a lot of businesses, including the business of those journalists who were inexplicably cheering AB5 — or worse, explaining to freelancers, from the safety of a staff job, that actually the law was good for them. AB5’s supporters argued that it would give news organizations incentives to bring contractors in-house, rather than exploiting them with insecure piecework. After all, the Los Angeles Times […]

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