Goats and Gig Workers: Lorena Gonzalez’s Impact on Labor in California

Along the American River Bike Trail in Sacramento, herds of goats devour the grasses and shrubs that provide kindling for wildfires. The goats, an eco-friendly alternative to chemical herbicides and machinery, may soon be sent packing. 

“New state labor regulations are making it more expensive to provide goat-grazing services, and herding companies say the rules threaten to put them out of business,” The Hill reports. “The changes could raise the monthly salary of herders from about $3,730 to $14,000, according to the California Farm Bureau.” 

This is all the doing of San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez, the prime mover of Assembly Bill 5. The 2019 measure targeted independent workers, from Uber and truck drivers to freelance writers, musicians, and videographers. In April 2020, the Independent Institute compiled an open letter, signed by 153 economists and scholars, urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to suspend AB-5 and hire gig workers during the pandemic. Gov. Newsom declined to do so

“After destroying the California ‘gig’ economy and independent contractors in more than 300 industries with Assembly Bill 5,” writes Katy Grimes of the California Globe, “former Democrat Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, now the head of the California Labor Federation, has set her sights on the goat herding industry.”

If current regulations continue, the goat herders “will lose their jobs, the goats will go to slaughter, land still needing vegetation and weed abatement will go up in flames and there will be one less industry for Lorena to unionize.” Assembly Bill 1099 would repeal the 2016 law that targets the herding industry, but the measure has yet to receive a hearing.

Meanwhile, a full 83.9 percent of California workers, the vast majority, are not union members, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 16.1 percent of California workers belong to unions. Across the nation, 89.9 percent of workers are not union members, and only 10.1 percent retain union membership. 

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