At what point did the lawmakers who voted for, and the governor who signed, California Assembly Bill 5 realize it’s lousy policy? It should have been the moment the idea was first conceived. But that didn’t happen, the legislation became law, and now it’s being implicitly admitted that it’s a mess.
That’s not necessarily good news. Yes, the plans to clarify and revise the bill, which threatens the existence of the gig economy and has already robbed workers of their freedom, will make some happy. But it won’t change the fact that it will still be a burden for those unable to escape the intrusions of the law because they aren’t members of the groups that Sacramento plans to give relief to.
According to her Twitter account, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the San Diego Democrat who authored the bill, has been hearing it from workers whose livelihoods are at stake, and is moving ahead with changes.
“Based on dozens of meetings with freelance journalists & photographers, we have submitted language to legislative counsel that we hope to have available next week” that “will cut out the 35 submission cap & instead more clearly define freelancer journalism,” she tweeted last week.
She also said “we are still pushing hard on industry and worker representatives to reach agreement on language regarding musicians,” announced “we will likely have to better define fine artist,” and promised “relief for small businesses that are complying with this new law.” There are plans, as well, to create a $20 million grant program “for small non-profit community arts programs that are transitioning their employees under AB5.”
A response from a freelancer/storyteller who has been publicly critical of the law summarized in a few words why a repeal of AB5 is more desirable than a series of corrective measures.
“This is good news,” Lisa Rothstein tweeted in response to Gonzalez Fletcher’s Twitter thread. ”Now do the other 100 professions that have been affected!”
Carve outs for some and not for others is clearly unequal treatment under the law, which is guaranteed by both the U.S. and California constitutions. Policymakers should not be in the business of choosing which groups win and which lose in the labor marketplace, or in any other.
AB5 was never going to be a good law. But it could have been a better law. Rather than carving out exemptions by trade, profession, or industry, the exemptions should have been across the board — those who didn’t want to be covered by the law could opt out no matter where they worked.
Even better: The option should rest with those who wish to be covered. They could actively opt in, leaving all others to continue as they had before without having their lives interrupted.
That wasn’t what the unions behind AB5 were thinking, though. They wanted more paying members, and Sacramento was happy to oblige them. What workers wanted and needed wasn’t a consideration.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.