When we first encountered the phrase “gig economy” we thought maybe it had something to do with gigabytes and computers.
In fact, a gig economy is one in which temporary, freelance workers perform "gigs," specific tasks, and can then move on.
The beauty of the gig economy for many workers is that it affords a high degree of freedom of movement, autonomy, and you don’t have to sit in staff meetings several times a week.
Perhaps members of the California Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom believed they were doing the right thing when lawmakers approved and the governor signed Assembly Bill 5, but their warm, fuzzy feeling crumbles under the weight of unintended consequences, as in hurting the very people the new law is supposed to protect. The real impact of AB 5 is it may cost thousands of workers their jobs.
Well-meaning lawmakers apparently failed to recognize the actual facts of a gig economy, and were still thinking in 20th-century terms.
AB 5 limits the value of classifying workers as independent contractors, rather than employees, by companies throughout California. Employees can get better labor protections, such as minimum wage, sick leave and unemployment and worker compensation benefits, benefits that do not apply to independent contractors. Concerns over employee misclassification, especially in the gig economy, drove support for the bill.
AB 5’s passage could put newspapers out of business by possibly requiring that carriers — the men and women who deliver your paper in the morning — be classified as employees. That’s the bad news for the newspaper industry. The good news is that lawmakers eventually recognized the unintended consequences of such rules, and subsequently approved a one-year delay in AB 5’s implementation with regard to that category of worker, as the law has done for other categories of workers.
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We understand what lawmakers’ goals and the governor’s stamp of approval are all about — protecting California workers, a progressive concept that also is the basis of the labor movement of the past century. And AB 5 is the result of having Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office. We get it.
We also get that enforcing this law will fundamentally disrupt the business we’re in — publishing newspapers and providing online news content — destabilizing this industry and countless others throughout California that rely on so-called gig workers.
Like newspaper routes of years gone by, delivering newspapers each morning is not a full-time job — or gig, in today’s jargon. By requiring newspapers to provide full employee benefits and protections to all newspaper carriers, the new law would make newspaper delivery economically impossible.
This comes on top of the Trump administration’s relentless attacks on the news media for simply doing its constitutionally protected job of reporting what happens in communities, across the state and nation, and around the world.
Just as the traditional workplace is being joined by gig workers, one century overtaking an older version, the newspaper industry is in transition as well. Technology is slowly replacing human hands and minds, and we’ve had to adjust to survive, like so many U.S. industries.
That is precisely why we are publishing this editorial, joining forces with newspapers statewide to encourage lawmakers to revisit Assembly Bill 5, think about unintended consequences, and take the steps necessary to help keep our gig economy alive.
And we believe this crusade will be joined by many other industries that recognize this existential threat.