2020 started with the promise of new possibilities. I had fresh, new plans for my upstart business in arts education. The new year also brought with it divisive new state legislation, Assembly Bill 5, also known as AB 5. This "gig worker bill” aims to reclassify millions of independent contractors as employees and to restructure the entire workforce in California.
Self-employment is more common in California than anywhere else in America. It was inconceivable that one piece of legislation meant to protect workers could sweep across the state with the force of a wildfire, destroying most every freelance occupation in its path. In hindsight, my initial reaction to the bill was naive. I trusted that my state government would have my back. Why wouldn’t I? The collateral damage hit me last week. I lost a summer teaching job. The sting of my disappointment prompted me to call the office of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, author of the bill. They hung up on me. Click. Gonzales is known to drop F bombs at people who question her about the law.
Since when had freelancers become a menace to society? For people who are self-employed, your work is not your job, it is who you are. Mandating that people cannot design their own lives feels paralyzing and degrading. Council member Barbara Bry, candidate for mayor says, "The new economy is diverse. People don't work in the same way they used to. They need a legal system that is responsive to our current economy.”
Understanding the legal background of AB 5 requires a proficiency in law that laypeople do not have — understanding The Dynamex Decision, interpreting The ABC Test and The Borello Test, expertise in business law, tax codes and countless other areas beyond my scope of knowledge.
Apparently Gonzales, Todd Gloria, co-author of the bill and candidate for mayor and the other legislators, did not have the scope of knowledge to anticipate all of the disastrous consequences.
Can it be believed that they did not intend to harm the myriad of vulnerable professionals they impacted? Single mothers, disabled persons, musicians, artists, journalists, translators, court reporters, yoga instructors, photographers, and professionals from at least 160 more lines of work?
I joined a social media group known as Freelancers Against AB5. The collective has grown to more than 12,000 members from across the state. The core mission is the full repeal of AB 5. Group founder, Karen Anderson, has become a modern-day folk hero. Her recent podcast is a comprehensive report about the bill and the devastation it has caused. She’s also been archiving personal stories.
Politics make strange bedfellows. The freelancer group is bipartisan and members must adhere to community rules of mutual respect in order to stay in the group. In this era of divisiveness and unrest, this has been invaluable and very healing. Yes, we all can get along.
On Feb. 27, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley will initiate a floor vote on Assembly Bill 1928, an urgency measure to suspend AB 5 while corrective legislation is under consideration.
As we prepare for our upcoming tax deadlines, thousands have been forced to bid farewell to their 1099s until further notice.