Golden State voters did their neighbors a solid Tuesday by voting to support Proposition 22 by a wide margin, rolling back the misguided and #neverneeded state law AB5. The law had threatened to undermine people’s ability to earn extra money through freelance work, making the financial crunch on them during the COVID-19 outbreak worse and damaging the state’s economy in the process.
The vote’s lopsided 58 to 42 percent margin in one of the nation’s most liberal-leaning states tells you all you need to know. Golden State voters were told repeatedly by AB5’s fans like Governor Gavin Newsom or state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that the law was needed to prevent so-called “gig economy” companies like Lyft and Uber from exploiting their workers by “misclassifying” them as contractors rather than employees. The companies’ claims that the flexibility associated with contract work was essential to the gig economy model was dismissed by critics as a bogus excuse to avoid complying with state and federal laws covering overtime, unemployment, and health insurance.
Californians rejected that, refusing to see gig workers as victims. Instead, what they saw were people acting on their own initiative to quickly earn additional money on the side when they wanted or needed it. The voters also saw the more traditional full-time self-employed workers like writers, musicians, translators, and photographers who had their livelihoods threatened by the law, which severely restricted the work freelancers could do. Or they themselves were the ones whose livelihoods were threatened by the law. The fact that AB5’s backers scrambled to amend the law after it was passed, carving out exceptions for the workers they didn’t mean to harm, merely underlined how flawed it was in its conception and how arbitrary it was in its application.
The law did real harm to state. Contractor work dropped off sharply because companies feared the liability of hiring Californians. The state has an 11 percent unemployment rate, well above the national rate of 7.9 percent. Currently, only Nevada and Hawaii, both dependent on tourism and hospitality for their economies, have higher rates. Yes, the COVID-19 outbreak is part of that, but California has consistently lagged behind the rest of the nation throughout the year, going as high as 16.4 percent in May.
For all of the partisan rancor going elsewhere in this election, the passage of Proposition 22 is hopeful sign. Voters are ultimately level-head headed and pragmatic. They can recognize bad policy for what it is once the harm caused by it is plain enough, and they’ll act to undo the damage when they can.