The top two priorities for the coronavirus pandemic are keeping people safe and minimizing economic damage, in that order.
California’s Assembly Bill 5 is harmful on both counts and should be repealed. Its stated goal is to reclassify many independent contractors as full-time employees. If it worked as planned, those workers would receive higher wages and benefits. But AB5 is not working out that way.
Instead, AB5 is harming food and grocery delivery services that are more important than ever for people under quarantine during the COVID-19 crisis. It is also making it more difficult for people to stay home under social distancing orders and find work at a time when unemployment could reach record levels. The New York Times spoke with one Californian trying to start a community news organization and another performing translation services for doctors and courts who cannot find work because they are classified as freelancers.
AB5 backfired almost instantly. Vox Media was recently mocked online when, after publishing an article titled “Gig workers’ win in California is a victory for workers everywhere,” it fired hundreds of California-based freelance reporters.
Many gig jobs are work-at-home jobs, including many lost journalism and writing jobs. These jobs are not just a way to pay bills; they have safety benefits during a time of social distancing and self-isolation.
As a result of public backlash, California legislators were already looking at ways to fix AB5 before the coronavirus hit. Unfortunately, they are going about it the wrong way. Surprisingly, they seem to be looking to President Trump’s playbook for inspiration.
More than 90,000 companies have applied for exemptions from the Trump steel and aluminum tariffs. Sensing political opportunity, California’s courts and legislators are mulling similar AB5 exemptions. While offering exemptions has the virtue of requiring politicians to admit their policies are hurting people, it has three significant problems.
One, exemptions take time to process. We don’t have that right now. People are already falling behind on their bills. Small businesses are hurting, people are out of work, and AB5 is making it harder for people to stay afloat.
Two, the officials who grant exemptions would gain great power. There is a risk some would use this power to enrich themselves. California legislators would also be tempted to bully companies for campaign contributions by dangling AB5 exemptions.
Three, exemptions would give favored businesses a government-granted advantage over competitors.
Read the full article at The Orange County Register.