Yahoo Finance is reporting that a group of freelance journalists have filed suit against the state of California over a new law that, in effect, has outlawed their profession. The law, which was originally designed to attack the gig economy as exemplified by rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft, also limited the number of articles that freelance writers living in California to 35 per year for each media outlet. The effect of the law has been to make it impossible for freelancers, who might write as many articles in a month, to earn enough money to live.
“Freelance writers and photographers on Tuesday filed the second legal challenge to a broad new California labor law that they say could put some independent journalists out of business.
“The law taking effect Jan. 1 aims to give wage and benefit protections to people who work as independent contractors. While the public focus has been largely on ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft, the lawsuit brought by the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association says the law would unconstitutionally affect free speech and the media.”
The lawsuit was filed in the wake of a decision by SB Nation, a subsidiary of Vox Media, to terminate its relationship with about 200 freelancers, replacing them with a smaller number of employees. Ironically, Vox proclaimed the new law as a “victory for workers everywhere.”
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit libertarian group, filed the suit on behalf of the writers and photographers. The suit demands that the provisions covering creative workers, including writers and photographers, be removed from the law out of first amendment considerations.
Reason Magazine suggests that the excuse that the outlawing of freelance writing was an “unintended consequence” of the law was lame.
“A lot of folks are now describing freelancer firings as an ‘unintended consequence’ of AB5. But this facet of the bill was well-known and discussed beforehand.
“It’s not an ‘unintended consequence’ so much as one that folks who wanted to stick it to Uber and Lyft (or at least get press for pretending to stick it to Uber and Lyft) deemed an acceptable consequence.
“Mainstream politicians and pundits love to cite ‘unintended consequences’ when their preferred policies cause harm in the exact ways libertarians said they would. It’s a brilliant way to get credit for trying to Do! Something! about a problem while absolving one’s side of any blame for the negative consequences of that action.”
A column in the Los Angeles Times takes a different view of the new law, placing the blame on the firings of freelance writers squarely on the publications for which they used to work for. The article claims that media outlets such as Vox are simply being cheap, refusing to hire freelancers as employees with full benefits. The piece dismisses claims that such publications are operating on a shoestring and cannot afford to hire a lot of full-time staff.
The column also refers to the Pacific Legal Foundation as “having a history of defending employer interests” and of “having a disdain for government regulations.” The foundation was founded by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife in 1973, described as “one of the most rabid right-wingers of his time.”
The article concludes by advising freelancers to not blame the law for their sudden unemployment, but rather greedy media outlets that refuse to pay them a living wage with generous benefits.
Many freelancers actually enjoy the freedom that not being tied to one employer entails. They can adjust their writing to just about any subject, not just ones that a particular publication runs. With old-line newspapers cutting back or even going under and online media coming and going, many freelancers like the freedom of working for more than one publication. The idea is that if one market dries up, there are always a number of others to get work from.
The New York Post notes that the anti-freelancer law may be coming to New York. A law similar to that that was enacted in California was recently introduced in the New York state legislature by New York State Sen. Robert Jackson and New York Assemblywoman Deborah Glick. However, the same article suggests that provisions might be included that would exempt freelance writers and other creative people.