Will California’s Destructive Restrictions on Freelance Workers Go National?

California Assembly Bill 5, signed last September by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, is now slated for reconsideration on the November 3, 2020 ballot. An initiative, qualified for the ballot on May 22, establishes criteria for determining whether rideshare drivers are “employees” or “independent contractors.” Voters might keep a few realities in mind.

AB-5 author Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Democrat, is a former union organizer with the AFL-CIO. In his AB-5 signing message, Gov. Newsom spoke of “creating pathways to form a union.” According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 84.8 percent of California workers are not union members. With only 15.2 percent of California workers, unions do not represent “labor” in any meaningful sense. AB-5 serves a special interest by coercing workers into unions, but that is not all it does.

Many Californians choose to be freelance writers, photographers and videographers, a choice that provides flexibility and gives freelancers the ability to work for a variety of publications. AB-5 limits freelance writers to 35 submissions per year, per publication, a direct assault on their ability to make a living. This law also targets independent contractors in many other fields, including health care. 

By prohibiting the use of independent contractor drivers, health care professionals, and workers in other critical areas,” 153 California economists and political scientists told Newsom in an April 15 letter, “AB-5 is doing substantial, and avoidable, harm to the very people who now have the fewest resources and the worst alternatives available to them.” At this writing, in a state still reeling from the pandemic, Gov. Newsom has declined to use his emergency powers to suspend the measure. 

On May 26, shortly after the AB-5 initiative qualified for the November ballot, presidential contender Joe Biden urged Californians to vote no and cited the need for a similar law on the national level. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unions represent only 10.3 percent of American workers. The vast majority of American workers, a full 89.7 percent, are not union members. As in California, a federal version of AB-5 threatens workers’ independence and ability to earn a living.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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