Commentary

Freelance Journalists Savor Gig-Economy's Election Victories

Going into this week's elections, one of the more spirited -- if not acrimonious -- online debates centered on a proposal to exempt ride-hailing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, from California's controversial gig-worker law that took effect this year.
A group of freelance journalists, myself included, supported the exemption, even if it didn't directly apply to us. Uber and Lyft's more than $200 million publicity effort helped to raise awareness of how California had hurt writers, editors and photographers in the state who happily work as independent contractors.
Their livelihoods suffered when California enacted Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), a law that mostly took aim at companies such as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart, which treat their drivers as contractors rather than employees. The law was intended to extend employee-like protections to thousands of workers. Critics said the law was a cynical attempt by unions to organize those drivers.
AB5 also placed a cap on how many times a publisher could contract a freelance writer, artist or photographer to handle a project before facing fines for not hiring those professionals as employees.

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To comply with the law, Vox Media ended contracts with hundreds of freelance writers and editors in California who covered sports for SB Nation, its blog network. Instead, it hired a fraction of those people as part-time or full-time employees.

As freelancers began to lose work, AB5 had the inadvertent effect of turning people who had never paid much attention to politics into activists. The old saying that "politics makes strange bedfellows" was evident as people from all political persuasions decried AB5 as a punitive measure that destroyed their livelihoods.
Amid an outcry from journalists and at least one lawsuit contesting the law, California later removed the yearly cap on how many articles they could write for a single publisher. However, the law is still vague. I can't recommend any publisher hire a freelance journalist in California unless AB5 is repealed.
That's why the passage of Proposition 22, which exempts gig-worker companies from AB5, is an important victory for freelancers. It bolsters the argument that AB5 is too restrictive on people who want the flexibility to freelance. There are countless people who have other responsibilities, like taking care of kids or elderly relatives, but want to earn a living.
Another encouraging sign is the possibility that Democrats won't win a majority in the Senate, now that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), has retained her seat after a wel- financed onslaught by challenger Sara Gideon. The Senate can continue to act as a firewall against the Protecting Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which is basically a federal version of AB5 the House of Representatives passed in February.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had expressed support for the PRO Act, but without a Senate majority on his side, the bill will never reach his desk as president. And yes, I predict he will be the next president.   
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