By Sheri Williams
On Feb. 3, union workers hit the state Capitol to urge legislators to protect Assembly Bill 5, last year’s landmark legislation that stops misclassification of workers by exploitative employers.
Hundreds of union members walked the halls, talking to Legislators about the importance of the law for all working Californians. Assembly Bill 5 prevents so-called gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft from treating employees as independent contractors, thereby denying them fair wages and benefits.
Those employers and others are now hard at work lobbying legislators to roll back the law entirely, or create carve outs for particular industries. There are currently more than a half-dozen bills being considered that would make changes to the law.
The bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez, recently introduced her own improvements to the law, which will provide clarity for some professions such as freelance journalists. Gonzalez said the sweeping legislation, a model for the county, will inevitably require refinements, but ultimately provides a vital protection as workers are attacked by industries that don’t value labor.
“When we passed AB 5 last year, we acknowledged our work to provide clarity following the Dynamex decision wasn’t done,” Gonzalez said on Twitter. “After more than a year of meetings, fact-findings and discussions with freelance writers and journalists, we’re making changes.”
Those changes include removing a cap on the number of articles a freelancer can write, but also ensuring a contractor cannot replace an employee.
But Gonzalez also pointed out that the critical protections of AB 5 go beyond the workers they impact directly. As the coronavirus spreads across the United States, many workers misclassified as independent contractors will have to face going to work sick or staying home without pay since they do not have sick days.
“Workers without paid sick leave often try to work through illnesses,” Gonzalez pointed out on social media. “That is the last thing we need.”
Organized Labor will continue to defend AB 5 in coming months, both at the state Capitol and working to defeat a proposed ballot measure that would allow on-demand ride share services to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors.