Proposed amendment to “gig economy” law would lift caps for freelancers

Flanked by labor union representatives, Gov. Gavin Newsom signs Assembly Bill 5 into law during a bill-signing ceremony on September 18, 2019. (Photo: Office of the Governor/Handout)

A proposed amendment to California’s controversial “gig economy” law would remove an arbitrary cap on submissions by freelance journalists, writers and editors.

Signed into law by a governor surrounded by labor union representatives, Assembly Bill 5 codified a multi-prong test that determined whether a worker was legally classified as an independent contractor or an employee of a company.

Prior to its passage, a considerable amount of public attention was spent focusing on the implications the law could have on technology companies, including Uber and Lyft, who rely on independent contractors for a substantial portion of their business.

Lost in the public discourse over the law was the effect it would have on freelance journalists, editors and writers: The law allowed those workers to continue providing stories and other services to newsrooms as freelancers, but limited them to 35 stories per newsroom per year.

That limit was higher than the 15 stories originally proposed under the law, but still impacted workers who complained that it would make it extremely difficult to nearly impossible to continue freelancing in the state.

The author of the bill, Assemblymember Lorena S. Gonzalez (D, San Diego), acknowledged the limitation was “arbitrary,” but defended it even as newsrooms were moving to eliminate freelance jobs across the state.

Earlier this year, Gonzalez relented by acknowledging flaws in her bill and promising to make them right.

On Thursday, Gonzalez said she is working with lawmakers to remove the arbitrary cap on story submissions supplied by freelancers. The amendment would be codified in a new measure, Assembly Bill 1850, which would also require newsrooms state in writing how much they’re willing to pay a freelance journalist for their work and whether the freelancer has any intellectual property rights to the submitted materials.

“Having heard additional feedback from a variety of freelance writers, photographers and journalists, we are making changes to [A.B. 5] that accommodate their needs and still provide protections from misclassification,” Gonzalez said in a statement.