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Newsom Doubles Down on AB5

Governor Gavin Newsom, leader of the nation-state of California, said on April 9 that there was no chance that he would suspend, even temporarily, Assembly Bill 5, the state law that strictly limits contractors across the state from being able to earn a living while being locked down due to the COIVD-19 outbreak. Better that they sit at home and earn nothing than run the risk of being “misclassified,” he declared.

“The state of California prides itself on being a national leader as it relates to protecting our workers from misclassification,” Newsom told reporters Wednesday. The Golden State, he proudly announced, is “advancing the cause in righting those wrongs and continuing to transition in the implementation of AB5.”

Thanks a heap, replied professional translator Ildiko Santana on Twitter. “Assembly Bill 5 and Sacramento arrogance … has & will continue to hinder economic opportunities for workers across CA who want the flexibility of gig work. We continue to call on Sacramento to repeal this onerous law,” she tweeted.

Santana was the type of person who, in theory, would be in a good position to weather the outbreak because she does translation work online. And in a state as multicultural as California, there’s plenty of that. She was instead obliged to create a GoFundMe campaign back in January because the AB5 caused her work to instantly dry up.

“It took me 20 years of hard work to build up my clientele, and one signature to lose it all on January 1, 2020, by the new labor law, Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). The effects of AB5 will be devastating on our industry and on me personally,” Santana says on her GoFundMe site.

It has only gotten worse for her since then. She’s hardly alone. All across the Golden State, contractors and gig workers can’t work because of AB5. The law was meant to prevent employers from shirking paying overtime and other benefits to workers by classifying them as contractors rather than employees. AB5 was heavily pushed by unions because contract work by definition cannot be organized. That’s a problem for them because the growth of the so-called “gig economy” has made contractors an ever-larger part of the workforce.

AB5 tries to put a stop this by strictly limiting what amount of contract work can be done. If you’re somebody who prefers to work as a contractor or is in a profession where that’s often just the nature of the work, such as a musician who perform gigs, freelancer photographers and journalists or translators for hire like Santana, well, tough luck.

“Here, in CA, the combination of this lockdown and #AB5 has been devastating. People who otherwise might have been able to weather the circumstances imposed by this pandemic have been hamstrung by AB5. Laws are legitimized by the public’s willingness to obey,” tweeted playwright Mark Joseph Suarez, adding in another tweet, “Thanks to #AB5 many creatives have been shut down or are moving out of CA.” But, hey, it’s not like arts and entertainment is that large of a part of the state’s economy. (That’s sarcasm, folks.)

Backers of AB5 are feeling the heat over this. Late last week, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored law, said that the bill would be amended to rollback some limits on “standalone music performances,” or as they’re commonly called “gigs.” Professional guitarist Adrian Gaylish was unimpressed. “This really goes to show just how wrong Lorena is about economics, economic freedom, the constitution and AB5 in general. When do we get an apology and repeal all of this disaster?” he tweeted.

Well, Newsom answered that Monday: never. It’s up to Californians themselves, assuming they get the chance.  They might because last month Protect App-Based Drivers & Services, a coalition group backed by Uber & Lyft, turned in a million signatures to get a ballot initiative to overturn the law. They needed just over 600,000.

Folks like musician, writer, and photographer Michele Garcia are ready. “The governor has made it clear he will not suspend #AB5 and so yes, it really has come to this. If you are not willing to represent your constituency, we will vote you out no matter what your party affiliation is. #RememberInNovember #RepealAB5,” she tweeted.​