The new law limits the work of independent journalists and small publications, say communicators

For some time the struggle of Uber and Lyft drivers attracted attention nationwide.

Many of these drivers, dissatisfied with their working conditions, requested that they be classified as employees and not as independent contractors in order to obtain certain benefits such as medical insurance, vacations and paid sick days.

They also claimed to work long hours for very little salary while their employers became increasingly wealthy.

After several months of discussions, on September 18, 2019, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, signed the AB5 law, whose author was the assemblywoman Lorena González.

The rule calls for restoring the employment status of thousands of workers who have allegedly been misclassified as contractors.

However, what few understood was that among these employees there would be not only Uber and Lyft drivers but also a much larger labor sector: freelancers.

‘We can't partner with you’

Emma Gallegos, 34, is a substitute teacher and independent reporter in the city of Bakersfield, California.

At the end of 2019, he applied for a job for an editing company. The answer left her so stunned that she posted it on her Twitter account.

Despite demonstrating that she was a good candidate for the position, Gallegos was told that they could not hire her because she lives in California.

"We cannot partner with you because of state contract laws that apply to your location," the Grammarly, Inc. company read in the message.

"Please let us know if your residence situation changes, as we would love to partner with someone who has your writing experience."

The company refers to the new AB5 law, which entered into force on January 1 and affects numerous independent workers.

In the field of journalism, the law stipulates that the media cannot publish more than 35 articles per year from a freelance writer. Otherwise, you must become a part-time or full-time employee.

“I was not looking for a full time job. That is what legislators do not understand, ”Gallegos said. “I was very upset. That same weekend I also took a copy editing exam and passed it and thought it would be good to get the job. But it was not enough".

Celebration for some, disaster for others

Following the signing of the AB5 law, Assemblywoman Gonzalez said California continues to be a global leader in protecting workers and hoped that other states would follow suit.

"Today, we are disrupting the status quo and taking a bold step forward to rebuild our middle class and reshape the future of workers as we know it," the assemblyman said in a statement.

However, while Uber, Lyft and other independent workers celebrate, many in the media take the law as a block to freedom of expression.

Gallegos, who has more than 10 years of experience as a reporter, said she was paid from $ 100 to $ 200 for small items up to $ 1,000 for more elaborate ones.

“Before it was easy for me to write the articles that paid less, but seeing that they will be counting, I will have to look for those that pay more,” said the communicator.

Emma Gallegos was rejected from a job because she lived in California. (Supplied)

He said he fully supported an improvement in working conditions for Uber and Lyft drivers, who complain about having a low salary for long hours of work. However, this situation does not apply in all cases, the reporter said, since there are workers like her who do not work full time in certain jobs.

The editor-in-chief of La Opinion, Gabriel Lerner, said that the earnings of Uber and Lyft do not come from the low charges they offer to their clients but rather from the low wages they give to drivers.

"And since they couldn't make a law that included Uber and Lyft only, they included other occupations," he added.

Unfortunately, as has been seen in recent years, the media are facing a situation where staff continues to be reduced – mainly in the print media.

"This law unintentionally became a frontal attack on small media," Lerner said and said it is impossible to force small media to offer jobs if they cannot be sustained.

"The most important thing is to change that law," he added. "It is a rare case where both freelancers and the publications assigned to them agree that it is negative for them."

Governor Newsom signed the law in September 2019. / photo: file.

Demand in process

Three months after the law was signed by Governor Newsom, two groups — the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of Press Photographers — filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles.

Last Friday, federal judge Phillip Gutierrez denied the temporary restraining order saying he waited a long time to act.

The groups filed the lawsuit two weeks before the law entered into force and requested the temporary restraining order only one day before, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Jim Manley, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation and representative of the groups, told AP that independent journalists in California lose jobs every day that AB 5 remains in force.

He added that the judge's decision to wait for a full hearing "is understandable given the seriousness of the problems."

Judge Phillip announced that it will take more time to consider objections to the law. The next hearing is expected to be in March.

An exit

At the close of the edition, assemblywoman Lorena González said: "There is nothing in AB 5 that requires a freelance writer to form an LLC (Limited Liability Company or Limited Liability Company)."

Gonzalez added that writers hired as freelancers (or freelancers) can submit publications up to 35 times a year before being hired as employees. He explained that these people can be employed part-time and continue to make their own schedules, and that this is under the control of the employer.

However, he said that writers could become sole proprietors and formalize themselves as legitimate small businesses. "That may require a local business license but does not have an annual state fee and would not be subject to the 35-presentation limit," the assembly said in a statement to La Opinión.


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