What does CA have against freelance writers?

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The view from my freelance writer’s life.

I am a freelance writer. Obviously, I’m not writing to get rich. I’m doing it because I love it. I don’t need the state of California to dictate who I submit articles to nor how often. But in a new bill, AB 5 that will be law in January, they are destroying the freelance writing business.

In an article by Katie Kilkenny in The Hollywood Reporter called “Everybody Is Freaking Out”: Freelance Writers Scramble to Make Sense of New California Law, she spells out some of the confusion and frustration over AB 5. The real intent of AB 5 was to get rid of the gig economy — in particular Lyft and Uber drivers — and force people to join unions. That’s the bottom line.

A new bill that caps freelance submissions may make writing financially unsustainable for many workers even though the legislator behind the law insists that the goal is “to create new good jobs and a livable, sustainable wage job.”

California-based freelance writer Arianna Jeret recently learned about Assembly Bill 5 and is now concerned she and her colleagues in CA may soon be speaking about their jobs in the past tense.

Jeret, who contributes to relationship websites YourTango.com and The Good Men Project, says freelance writing has helped support her two children and handle their different school schedules. Her current gigs — covering mental health, lifestyle and entertainment — allow her to work from home, from the office and even from her children’s various appointments. “There were just all of these benefits for my ability to still be an active parent in my kids’ lives and also support us financially that I just couldn’t find anywhere in a steady job with anybody,” she says.

Jeret is now coming to terms with how her lifestyle will change come Jan. 1, when AB 5, California legislation aimed directly at the gig economy that was signed into law Sept. 18, will go into effect.

The bill, which cracks down on companies — like ride-sharing giants Lyft and Uber — that misclassify would-be employees as independent contractors, has been percolating through the California legislative system for nearly a year. It codifies the 2018 Dynamex decision by the State Supreme Court while carving out some exemptions for specific professions.

I worked at jobs with benefits for years before deciding to stay home and work as a contract employee. I did this when I became a mother. My husband had benefits from his job, so I no longer had to worry about health insurance, etc. I had the freedom to stay home and write. I’ve written for PR firms, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and worked on non fiction and fiction manuscripts. I’ve had enormous freedom in my writing career to juggle it with motherhood and volunteering. Sometimes writing took a back seat. And that’s okay. It was all my choice. 

Freelancers have different reasons for not being full-time or part-time employees. They know what the benefits are as well as the drawbacks. Why doesn’t the state want us to decide what fits our lives best? Why do they think they know better?

AB 5 came up with a number of 35 submissions to a single publication, or you’re considered an employee. And you have to join the union, too. So how did the State of CA come up with that number?

As for how lawmakers settled on the 35-submission figure, Gonzalez says that she and her team decided that a weekly columnist sounded like a part-time worker and so halved that worker’s yearly submissions. After protest from some freelancers, the number was bumped up to 35. “Was it a little arbitrary? Yeah. Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary,” she says.

Still, labor experts and freelancers alike are skeptical that the desired outcome of AB 5 — that newsrooms will hire California-based freelancers as part-time or full-time employees — will be achieved in the short term, especially as the news media continues to face major challenges to its business (in September, Business Insider estimated that 7,200 workers have lost their media jobs so far this year). Many publications that employ California freelancers aren’t based in the state and it’s not clear how AB 5 will affect them. Still, some are choosing to opt out entirely. Indeed, several freelance writers who spoke to THR say that various out-of-state employers — some with offices in California — have already told them they’re cutting ties with California freelancers.

What’s especially disheartening about this bill is that is was written by someone who doesn’t understand the industry at all. They have no idea how their law is going to affect the media industry.

I’d love to hear from other freelancers about their thoughts on AB 5.

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2 thoughts on “What does CA have against freelance writers?

  1. That sounds terrible. I see the good intent: they think joining unions will lead to better lives for workers, but this rule ignores that there are exceptions and individual situations… I’m sorry this is happening in your state. 😦

    • I think you are 100% correct. Freelance writers as a group are not at all alike and we have different needs and situations. We choose this life for many reasons. Thanks for commenting.

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