In a bid to protect “regular employees” and to “preserve good jobs,” California Gov Newsom has signed a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that caps the number of articles a freelance journalist can publish in any one year at 35. (AB 5) For many who write for California magazines and papers, that prohibits their ability to make enough money to survive. Thirtyfive articles is the amount many freelance journalists write in one month or less, not an entire year.
“Everyone’s freaking out, like my anxiety is going through the damn roof.” Amy Lamare, Freelance journalist
Wait, what?! https://t.co/5o3VWEJ70s
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) October 21, 2019
Section 10 of the bill reads:
“(x) Services provided by a freelance writer, editor, or newspaper cartoonist who does not provide content submissions to the putative employer more than 35 times per year. Items of content produced on a recurring basis related to a general topic shall be considered separate submissions for purposes of calculating the 35 times per year. For purposes of this clause, a “submission” is one or more items or forms of content by a freelance journalist that: (I) pertains to a specific event or topic; (II) is provided for in a contract that defines the scope of the work; (III) is accepted by the publication or company and published or posted for sale.”
A similar clause also pertains to photojournalists or photographers.
The bill goes into effect as of January 1, 2020. The definition now of a “contracted” employee precludes freelance writers from being considered, ruling that they were “misclassified” in the first place. So they’ll have to be “employees” and get the same benefits as those who are full time. Only most employers won’t do that for someone who produces only 35 articles per pear.
It has been “percolating” through the California legislature for a year. Cali Gov Newsom signed it on September 12. NOW the freelance journalists, some of whom are Conservative writers in California, are balking.
As one Twitter user put it, the difference between California and the Titanic is that the Titanic had lights on when it went down.
Many California publications are now “distancing themselves” from freelancers.
The Hollywood Reporter noted,
The crux of AB 5 for freelance journalists is the “B” requirement of the legislation’s so-called “ABC test” to determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The B test requires that a freelancer “performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” For freelance writers — who perform the same work as staff writers, just less frequently — the odds are that any argument they present as to how their roles are unique won’t pass muster, and therefore the 35-“submission” cap per year will apply if they want to remain an independent contractor. Work that counts as a “submission” can include a published individual story, a series or coverage of a single event, Gonzalez tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The overall goal of AB 5, Gonzalez says, is “to protect and preserve good jobs. We’re trying to create new good jobs and a livable, sustainable wage job.”
California’s habit of “saving” and “protecting” good jobs certainly seems to always be destroying them. The LA Times, NY Times, and other publications that have offices in California are “evaluating” how to comply with the law, but may end up not hiring as many freelancers. And for the mother who writes from her basement while taking care of her children…that’s going to hurt.
In the short term, freelance journalists hired for a short stint may have to be paid at the same rate a full time employee. Now that they’ll be “employees,” they may find out that they didn’t make enough hours to qualify for the pension plan or health insurance.
Some freelancers have made an appointment with Gonzalez to discuss their concerns. Others say they plan to leave the state. But for those who cover Hollywood…they’re stuck.
Looks like a job for the courts to figure out…
Featured photo: file via freelance writing