Federal Court Upholds California’s Oppressive Restrictions on Freelance Writers
A federal court panel has unanimously ruled that it’s not a violation of freelance journalists’ First Amendment rights for the state of California to restrict their ability to work and be published as independent contractors.
We’re talking about Assembly Bill (A.B.) 5, the now-infamous 2019 labor law that puts very tight controls on who may be classified as an independent contractor and who is considered an employee. The law formalized a 2018 California Supreme Court ruling, Dynamex Operations West Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles. That decision dictates that workers are employees unless they pass something known as an “ABC test,” which hinges on whether a workplace actually has control over a worker’s tasks and whether he does the work associated with that business entity. If he does, the state considers him an employee, not a freelancer.
To be clear, whether a freelancer wants to be treated as an independent contractor does not factor into this test at all. Even though these rules can have a dramatic and negative impact on someone’s ability to earn a living, he doesn’t get a say. That is partly the point. A.B. 5 is intended to make it hard, if not impossible, for California businesses to work with freelancers and instead force them to rely on employees with fixed wages and additional benefits.
The bill was very destructive for freelancers in all lines of work. It was specifically designed to try to drive out Uber and Lyft on behalf of the heavily unionized taxi cartel (and California voters decided in November to exempt these drivers, though a judge has since overruled the ballot initiative).
For freelance journalists, A.B. 5 initially put a cap on the number of stories they could get published by an individual outlet while still being considered independent contractors. This was devastating for any number of freelancers. It was also difficult because the finances for media outlets these days are just
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