Journalists Fail to Block California’s Independent-Contractor Rules

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Los Angeles judge denied a freelance reporter organization’s request to block a new law that will hamper the livelihood of contractors in California.

The law that went into effect Jan. 1 seeks to address the state’s growing contract workforce, working for the likes of Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. Assembly Bill 5 requires those companies and others like them to classify their workers as employees.

The floor of the California State Senate in Sacramento, California.

But some of the state’s freelance workforce say if they are counted as employees that would scare away their regular clients. Under AB 5, freelance writers and photographers would see a hard cap of 35 pieces of content per year, per publication – articles, columns, restaurant reviews or photo essays held to a cap that some freelance reporters say they would blow through in a few months because of their regular contributions to some outlets.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors sought a temporary restraining order claiming AB 5 would bring “significant new costs and disadvantages to the members” of journalism organizations if they’re required to be classified as employees rather than freelancers. They claim freelance reporters’ free speech rights will be burdened under AB 5 and that excluding videography from the cap is unconstitutional.

But U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez found the reporters filed their challenge of AB 5 less than 15 days before the law was set to go into effect, despite Governor Gavin Newsom signing it into law this past September.

“Plaintiffs then waited another two weeks to file this request for a temporary restraining order,” Gutierrez wrote. “Plaintiffs filed their application for a temporary restraining order one day before the law was to go into effect.”

The journalists did not explain “the necessity for bypassing regular motion procedures” with their request for a temporary restraining order either, Gutierrez said.

“Plaintiffs’ delay belies their claim that there is an emergency,” the judge wrote. “Ultimately, having carefully reviewed plaintiffs’ application, the court concludes that plaintiffs have not made a ‘clear showing that [they] are entitled’ to the extraordinary short-term relief requested here.”

Last month, New York-based Vox Media said it would sever ties with hundreds of contract writers and editors in California as the company braces for the new law. Content produced under Vox’s sports blog network SB Nation will now be done by a team of staff employees.

“That new law makes it impossible for us to continue with our current California team site structure because it restricts contractors from producing more than 35 written content ‘submissions’ per year,” SB Nation executive director John Ness wrote in a blog post.

Under AB 5, Vox would have been required to reclassify some of those workers as employees.

The bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, codifies the game-changing labor standard established by the California Supreme Court in the 2018 ruling Dynamex v. Superior Court.

Backed by unions including Service Employees International Union, California Labor Federation and State Building and Construction Trades Council, AB 5 will offer protections to many janitors, truck drivers, retail workers, and childcare workers in the state.

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash plan to spend millions to place a measure on the November 2020 statewide ballot to allow voters the chance to overturn AB 5.

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