Will California’s Gig Economy Bill Hurt Freedom of Press?
Does AB-5 provide enough protections for newspapers and journalists? Tell your representative what you think.
If you’ve heard anything about California’s Assembly Bill 5 you probably recognize it as a fight to classify Uber and Lyft drivers as employees. The bill — often cited as a move to protect “gig economy” workers from exploitation at the hands of large corporations particularly big tech companies — passed in the California Legislature last week, and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.
While protecting worker’s rights is typically a positive thing, good intentions can have negative consequences.
Freelance journalists and press organizations are worried that the rules proposed by AB-5 would constrict journalists and make it difficult for smaller press outlets to maintain a functioning staff. The most notable effect would be on so-called “citizen journalists” – writers and photographers who are not professional journalists by trade. Even with existing journalist provisions, AB-5 says that media outlets can only hire journalists operating with an official business license, and would limit freelancers to 35 articles per year.
This means that amateur journalists who provide all sorts of vital content — photographs from wildfires, expert guest columns from scientists or professionals, and amateur first-person accounts from migrant caravans or natural disaster survivors — cannot legally be paid for their work if they don’t operate a “journalism business.”
Some industries have been able to lobby for broad AB-5 exceptions. The newspaper industry claimed a small victory this weekend through an add-on bill, AB-170, that pushed the rule change to 2021 for newspaper delivery services. But even this bill garnered significant controversy.
Free press advocates are pushing for an amendment or an expanded “journalist exception” to AB-5 so that the bill could still protect vulnerable gig economy workers without hindering free speech.
If signed by Governor Newsom, the law will go into effect on January 1st, 2020. It’s worth noting that, although this bill only applies to California, new legislation in one state often serves as a model for similar legislation in other states.
Do you think California should pass a revised journalist exception to the gig economy bill? Tell your reps what you think.
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