Dear Assemblywoman Gonzalez,
I write to thank you for drafting and pushing AB5, the new gig economy law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom that codifies a narrow definition of independent contractors in California so as to grant more workers valuable employee protections.
I thank you not because the law is a good one, but because it has provided me with such a clear justification in the eyes of my fellow liberals as to why I am so skeptical of government. My libertarian streak tends to get me branded as a moron by those on the left, but since your bill stands to have such a colossally negative impact on freelance writers, you are now speaking to my colleagues and allies on the left with more force, clarity, and volume than I ever could.
Your bill affects not only freelance writers, meanwhile. Truckers are worried. Franchisors and franchisees are worried. Translators and interpreters are worried. You’ve even managed to put a chill in WWE wrestlers. But since I’ve made my living as a writer — ghostwriting, speechwriting, editing, screenwriting, novel writing, journalism, editorial writing — I will stay within my zone of expertise.
After all, if only you had done the same, we wouldn’t be in this mess…
Never before have I so appreciated the first syllable in the word “freelancer.” To be sure, freedom is a wondrous thing. And the freelancers I know love their working lifestyles: Free to set their own hours. Free to set their own rates. Free to negotiate. Free to work from home. Free to claim copyrights as their own. Free to cap their own workloads.
AB5 muddies, obstructs, and/or creates fear around much of what’s listed in the paragraph above, but it’s that last one, about setting one’s own workload, that has the law now trending on Twitter. For as of January 1, and retroactively to boot, freelance journalists (and writers, but as my lawyer pointed out in our expensive meeting, your law’s language fails to distinguish one from the other) will only be able to write 35 submissions per client per year, before that client must become their employer.
I needn’t repeat what so many on Twitter have said: For some writers, 35 articles get written in a week! Moreover, as many others have pointed out, the net outcome of AB5, rather than compelling clients to become employers, will likely be compelling clients to avoid hiring freelance writers in California. After all, in the present digital age, one can easily find talent in other states—and countries. As such, your job creation bill will destroy both jobs and lives.
Cloudier still, what’s to become of writers’ rightful ownership of their own work? As freelancers, we can contract to maintain such ownership. As employees, by default, our work will be legally owned by our employers. Too, we face a louder and more basic clash between how employees work and how freelancers work, as the former tend to be paid hourly, on the clock, while the latter tend to be paid per project, hours unknown.
So: Is an amazing writer who can pen a brilliant column within an hour — her brilliance the accrued result of years of writing experience — really only worth 12 bucks per hour in minimum wage?
Such are the sinister doors your bill has opened. Note, though: I feel no will to insult you, much less help pile on you, as I’m sure the vitriol you face on Twitter is far from motivating. Quite the contrary, perhaps you’re digging deeper into your own convictions, and thus inclined to stick to your guns.
Those guns are empty. The bill is sloppy. It’s liberalism run amok. It’s a case study of a government bureaucrat crafting regulation around industries she’s never worked in and thus does not understand.
Stable employment was your bill’s intention. Mass instability will be its result. Oftentimes, bills like these land quietly, sinking their teeth into unwitting victims who lack the time, energy, and capacity to organize and mobilize against them. Here, though, you’ve bitten down on a group that’s long been accustomed to another freedom, one not listed among the other freedoms above, but one long enshrined in our Constitution and thus our culture. I speak of the first one. The one so many fought and died for:
Freedom of Speech.
Hence all the noise you now hear.
Assemblywoman: Ideally, your whole bill would be scrapped and rethought. But in the meantime, please limit no person’s freedom of speech. For like all freedoms, although that one can be taken, it does not go easily forgotten.
I hope this noise is not only heard, but listened to.
Very best wishes,