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Group representing California freelancers file lawsuit over “gig economy” bill

Two groups representing freelance workers in California have filed a federal lawsuit that challenges a new initiative that reclassifies certain freelance journalists and photographers as employees.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors along with the National Press Photographers Association filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in federal court on Tuesday alleging provisions of Assembly Bill 5 violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Assembly Bill 5, a measure authored by San Diego Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez, was heralded as a measure that provided certain independent contractors in California with workplace protections, including the right to unionize, by reclassifying these workers as employees of a business.

As the measure was being deliberated, much of AB5’s focus was how it would impact independent contractors who worked as truck drivers or for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. But the measure also impacts freelance writers, journalists and photographers, many of whom have seen sources of income disappear from companies that have shown a resistance to working with those based in California thanks to the new law.

On Monday, more than 200 freelance writers and editors who work for Vox Media’s numerous digital properties were told they would receive pink slips after the new year thanks to restrictions found within AB5, including one that limits the amount of stories a publication can accept from a freelance worker to no more than 35 articles in a year. Curbed, Eater and SB Nation were among some of the Vox Media properties affected by the layoffs, with some localized websites facing imminent closure, according to a person familiar withe matter.

Other journalists have posted on social media similar stories of companies whose job listings have specifically excluded California workers from consideration due to the restrictions placed by AB5.

Those limitations created “unique and significant burdens” on freelance journalists and photographers who were unfairly “singled out” by restrictions in the measure, the federal lawsuit filed on Monday said.

“We have no choice but to go to court to protect the rights of independent writers and freelance journalists as a whole,”  Milton C. Toby, the president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, said in a statement. “The stakes are too high, and we cannot stand by as our members and our colleagues face ill-conceived and potentially career-ending legislation.”

The American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association are represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation. The complaint is available to download here.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).