Add the hardships it has caused during the pandemic lockdowns to the discouraging sight of rideshare companies desperately trying to save their businesses in California, it’s not unreasonable to wonder why Assembly Bill 5 hasn’t been suspended by executive order and lawmakers from both parties haven’t been running into each other with bills to repeal the law and start all over again.
Yet AB5, which virtually outlaws independent and freelance work in the state because unions saw in rideshare drivers a quarry to organize and then drain for dues, remains. The Assembly had a chance to do some good a week ago when an amendment to repeal the bill came up, but it was defeated. “Though a few legislators changed their votes,” said amendment author Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, lawmakers “still chose to keep the law in place without regard for all of its victims.”
Since AB5 went into effect in January, there have been some adjustments, from both Sacramento and the legal system (a federal judge has blocked indefinitely its effects on more than 70,000 independent truckers, “deciding that it is preempted by federal rules on interstate commerce”), and proposals for other modifications. But, even taken altogether, would they be enough?
Take a look at recent headlines regarding AB5:
“Family businesses may be lost without more fixes to Assembly Bill 5” – Los Angeles Daily News
“Intended to help workers, Assembly Bill 5 restricts choice” – Orange County Register
“It’s up to voters to save rideshare and delivery services from Assembly Bill 5” – Orange County Register
“Bill to delay newspaper labor changes passes key Senate committee” – Press Enterprise
“A Los Angeles singer leads the fight to fix AB5” – Fox News 11, Los Angeles
And then we have:
“Mayoral Candidate Barbara Bry Calls for Repeal of ‘Unworkable’ Assembly Bill 5” – Times of San Diego
A bill already passed by the Assembly that’s expected to be approved by the Senate by today extends exemptions to a number of professions, including youth sports coaches, specialized performers teaching master classes, appraisers, insurance field services, musicians, songwriters, and film and television production crews. Yet AB5, and the rest of its job-robbing restrictions, will remain on the books.
Even if voters approve this fall Proposition 22, which would let app-based companies such as Lyft and Uber continue to classify drivers as independent contractors rather than hire them as employees – as demanded by AB5 – hundreds of thousands gig workers will still be prevented from working because of the law. It is “unworkable” in its totality, not in just a few of its provisions, and cannot be reformed in any meaningful way. Lawmakers need to start again.
The idea behind AB5 isn’t going away in California (and has already corrupted lawmaking elsewhere). Sacramento is too beholden to unions. If AB5 is repealed (not an impossibility, given how much it is hated by the people who are negatively affected by it), it’s unlikely whoever writes the replacement won’t want to stray too far from the original’s roots.
But even in California workers deserve to be free to decide for themselves if they will be independent contractors or pursue hired employment. Lawmakers owe it to workers to draft a bill that allows those who don’t want to be covered by the law to opt out no matter where they work. Let those who wish to be covered by it actively opt in, leaving everyone else to continue as they had before their lives were turned inside out by AB5.
Yes, those who opted in would have to compete for jobs with those who prefer the freedom of working as independent contractors. The former would be at a disadvantage. Given a choice, and all other things being equal, in most cases companies will pick the freelancer over someone who will work only if hired.
But at least those who wish to be employees have a choice. That’s more than the 2 million or so freelancers who had their livelihoods stolen by AB5 were allowed.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.