California lawmaker wants labor law for freelancers changed

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The author of a sweeping new California labor law said Thursday that she intends to ease its restrictions on freelance journalists and others after months of protests that it is already costing people their jobs.

Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said in a series of tweets that she already has proposed legislative language removing a requirement that any freelancer with more than 35 submissions to a single media outlet in a year must be considered an employee.

It was just one of many efforts in the law to define which workers must be treated as employees rather than independent contractors. The law sets the nation's strictest test for which workers must be considered employees and could set a precedent for other states.

But the freelancers objected to what they say is an arbitrary limit. SB Nation, owned by Vox Media, announced even before the law took effect Jan. 1 that it was ending its use of more than 200 California freelancers, switching instead to using a much smaller number of new employees.

Gonzalez said her new bill will “more clearly define freelancer journalism.”

“In the next few weeks, we will be rolling out a number of asks, initiatives and bill language to help ease the implementation of AB5 and make clarifications to the law based on hundreds of meetings and discussions with individuals and groups,” she said in one of nearly a dozen related tweets.

A federal judge has set a hearing in March to consider a lawsuit by the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association arguing that the law unconstitutionally affects free speech and the media.

Caleb Trotter, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation who is representing the groups, said he has not seen the proposed changes. “But we hope that the revised law will no longer treat journalists as second-class freelancers,” Trotter said, referring to greater freedoms under the law for other freelance professions.

Removing the limits “would be a step in the right direction,” he said.

Gonzalez's Twitter threads came as she and other lawmakers also announced that they are asking that $20 million be included in the state budget starting July 1 for a grant program to help small non-profit community arts programs that are transitioning their employees under the law .

Beyond the freelancers, she said she is negotiating over language regarding “the unique situation regarding musicians,” and plan to address that as well “in the next round of amendments by March.”

A different federal judge has blocked the law from affecting more than 70,000 independent truckers, saying it is preempted by federal law when it comes to their profession.

The focus of the law had originally been largely on ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft, which are separately challenging the law. A hearing on a lawsuit by Uber and food delivery company Postmates is set for Friday, and they are among those pushing for a November ballot initiative to exempt them from the law.

Gonzalez said in a related tweet thread that “I will fight Uber’s attempt to exempt themselves through initiative."

She apologized to anyone offended by her often blunt defense of the law on social media .

“For the added stress that has caused anyone, or the feelings of not being heard, I am truly sorry,” Gonzalez said. “I am direct & straightforward, passionate about workers’ rights and too busy to directly respond to everyone, but I do listen and I care about getting this right.”

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