Author of “gig economy” bill to promote exemptions for freelance journalists

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)

After months of staring down her critics, the author of a measure that led to sweeping job losses for freelance writers and editors now says she’s willing to carve out exemptions that would allow those same workers to accept jobs without arbitrary limits on how much work they could perform.

Asm. Lorena Gonzalez’ original measure, Assembly Bill 5, prevented news organizations that hired freelance writers and editors in California from accepting more than 35 stories or other works in a given year unless they reclassified those freelance workers as employees. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last September.

Shortly before the measure took effect, freelance journalists said they were already suffering the consequences of it. In December, Vox Media said it would issue pink slips to around 200 California-based independent contractors by this March. Other news organizations, including Reuters, the San Francisco Examiner and Patch Media, have scaled back their use of freelance workers and looked outside of California to fill roles left behind.

In some cases, news organizations have posted job listings seeking reporters outside of California who are willing to cover news happening within the Golden State from afar. One job listing reviewed by The Desk sought to hire a reporter willing to cover California politics, but the listing explicitly warned against those living in California from submitting an application.

California Assembly Member Lorena S. Gonzalez. (Photo: California State Assembly/Handout)

Many affected freelancers have reached out to Gonzalez via Twitter, and for weeks Gonzalez has responded with a mixture of criticism, showboating and misinformation. At one point, she claimed freelance workers who sought to establish a business-to-business relationship with a news organization would be exempt form A. B. 5, though the measure contained no such waiver. In another tweet, she criticized Huffington Post contributor Yashar Ali by saying his opinions about A.B. 5 were unwarranted because he “isn’t a journalist (and) he’s not a constituent.”

In late December, Gonzalez angrily wrote on Twitter that it was time for her critics to “get over it.”

“They think I’m unprofessional, dumb, unaware and/or angry,” Gonzalez wrote. “I am a woman of color who is direct, stands up for myself and others, and speaks my mind, every single time.”

Related story: California lawmaker challenges critics, journalists after bill leads to job cuts

But this week, Gonzalez changed her tune, admitting she was short-sighted when it came to the unintended consequences of A.B. 5 and pledging to push for new measures that would carve out exemptions for freelance journalists who have been adversely affected by A.B 5.

In a series of tweets, Gonzalez said new legislation, Assembly Bill 1850, would codify a business-to-business exemptions “to ensure folks understand it is the first exemption and specify that such an exemption is allowable for freelance writers.” Gonzalez also said A.B. 1850 would provide “additional relief for small businesses that are complying with (A.B. 5),” including an additional $20 million in the state budget earmarked for community arts programs who are “transitioning their employees under A.B. 5.”

For freelance journalists, Gonzalez said she is working with a number of groups, including Shutterstock and Getty, on language that would benefit them. She said she’s already taken “dozens of meetings” with freelance journalist groups, even as some groups have taken their case to court.

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