As publishers cut jobs amid a plunge in advertising revenue, those newly unemployed people in California have even less possibility of earning income from freelance work.
The limitation on freelancers was part of California's Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) that took effect on Jan. 1 — as part of a crackdown on ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. The idea behind the law was to force the companies to treat drivers as full-time employees instead of independent contractors, making them eligible for benefits like health and unemployment insurance.
They also would have a right to join labor unions, as many editorial employees have done for decades. Unfortunately, those union cards don't guarantee job security in a pandemic.
As it turned out, the federal government in March expanded unemployment insurance to cover gig workers, though the surge in claims has created a frustrating bottleneck. The feds also started offering contract workers a chance to receive forgivable loans through the Small Business Administration, which ignited controversy for favoring bigger companies.
With an unemployment rate estimated at 24%, California should want people to get back to work as quickly as possible. That includes giving journalists a chance to earn freelance income among the publishers that have budgets for assignments and are unwilling to expand their overhead costs by hiring full-timers.
Many journalism jobs are well suited for work-from-home settings, requiring a phone and an internet connection to interview sources and research background information. Countless publications are now operating virtually, exchanging emails and meeting by video conference.
Unfortunately, AB-5 is still in effect in California, with smug lawmakers like State Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, singularly personifying their contempt for freelance workers.
"I appreciate that some independent contractors are upset. AB 5 took away their lollipop,” she said during a debate over a measure to overturn the law, spurring a withering response on social media.