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Protestors Rail Against California’s New Restrictions on Freelancers and the Gig Economy

On January 28, hundreds of freelance writers and other independent contractors gathered at California’s state capitol to protest Assembly Bill 5, authored by San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez. Her bill targeted the so-called “gig economy,” specifically the independent drivers for Uber and Lyft, but it also attacked freelance writers, who could have been the primary target.

AB 5 limits freelance writers, photojournalists, videographers and such to 35 submissions per publication per year, fewer than one per week. Anything beyond that and Gonzalez, a lawyer and former AFL-CIO union organizer, demands that the publications employ the writers as permanent employees. This is a bid to boost membership in unions, to which, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, a full 85.3 percent of California’s wage and salaried workers, the vast majority, do not belong.

Unions proved useful in the representation of industrial workers who performed essentially the same task. By contrast, writers, photographers, and videographers deploy a variety of marketable skills. Many prefer to be their own boss and work from home, which provides flexibility. The same is true of software programmers and other independent contractors. Like the writers, they represent themselves and negotiate deals for their products and services with various companies.

As it turns out, the “gig economy” is simply another name for the free market in labor and services. AB 5 is a frontal assault on free and voluntary exchange, but as Marlon Brando said in On The Waterfront, there’s a lot more to it. The 35-submission limit on freelance writers is an assault on their livelihood and a threat to their First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

AB 5 faces legal action from the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association. So far, the effort to overturn the repressive measure has not fared well under federal judge Philip Gutierrez, an appointee of George W. Bush.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.
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