California’s AB5: a sufferance for gig economy and media companies
California’s Assembly Bill 5 has created problems not just for the gig economy but also for California-based media companies. Now, the AB5 caps the number of articles that a California writer can produce for a publication in a year at 35. The total is less restrictive that the 20 per year which had been laid out in an earlier version of the bill.
However, the limit is also lower than the 50 that has been suggested by groups like the National Writers Union.
Although the law makes it baseless to hire Californians for high-volume jobs, publishers still have time to think for solutions as the bill will go into effect at the beginning of next year.
“All this does for digital publishers is add even more headaches to our daily existence,” said an executive at one California-based media company. “Our more prolific writers have already reached out and said, ‘What do I do now?’”
Initially, the bill was passed to counter Uber and Lyft. However, both companies were quick to term their drivers as “independent contractors” rather than employees.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 30,000 Californians are designated as writers, editors, journalists, correspondents, or media and communication workers. When compared to these stats, the bill will only affect a small number of workers.
For example, a source at one publisher said that only about 20% of its freelance writers were from California, and that fewer than half of them produced more than that 35-article limit.
But, on the other hand this means that the few people employed as writers and journalists are “valuable assets.”
Others are considering simply flouting the law and hoping nobody notifies authorities. While there is a state office, Labor Workforce Development Agency, responsible for regulating and enforcing AB5, “how vigorously they go out and try to enforce it is going to come down to agency and legislative priorities,” said Steven Katz, a partner at the law firm Constangy Brooks, Smith & Prophete.
“If nobody wants to sue you, and nobody’s ever disgruntled, the odds of the regulators coming independently and inspecting you are quite low,” Katz said.
But, on the other hand, he added, “There’s a whole bunch of private enforcers out there. I would expect with AB5 that these lawyers are also out looking for these issues.”