Wilk announces bills to Help California's Newspapers & Freelance Journalists

SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wilk, representing the 21st Senate District, announced today that he is coauthoring two bills to help newspapers and freelance journalists continue to operate in California by exempting them from the state’s new anti-independent contracting law, Assembly Bill 5 (Gonzalez, 2019). 

“I am committed to finding a way for Californians to continue working in the way that works for them. Last year the Governor and majority party left many industries and professions scrambling to survive when Assembly Bill 5 was passed and signed into law – including newspapers and freelance journalists,” said Wilk. “Today we are taking a first step in fixing the new law’s many flaws by helping California’s newspapers and journalists continue in their traditional way of doing business.”

Senator Wilk has joined Senator Patricia Bates in authoring Senate Bills 867 and 868 to address separately the concerns of newspapers and freelance journalists. Both bills are currently pending referral to Senate policy committees.

Senate Bill 867

SB 867 would permanently exempt newspaper distributors and carriers from AB 5. While existing law exempts newspaper distributors from Assembly Bill 5’s (AB 5) requirements for only one year.

Newspaper publishers argue that AB 5 would eviscerate the newspaper industry because it relies on the independent contractor model to distribute newspapers. Most who choose to distribute papers on behalf of publishers do not wish to be full-time employees. As independent contractors, carriers can work for multiple newspaper publishers and create flexible work schedules. If left unfixed, AB 5 could eventually lead to the closing of many local papers by saddling them with additional costs they cannot afford.

Senate Bill 868

SB 868 would exempt freelance journalists from AB 5, which has severely affected many of them by limiting freelance journalists to just 35 stories a year if they wish to remain independent contractors. Pay for many freelance writers can be as low as $25 per submission, which means most independent writers would write well over the arbitrary 35 article limit. AB 5’s author admitted that the 35-submission figure was subjective, saying “Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary.”

AB 5 also affects media companies outside California because they do not want to hire California-based freelance journalists who are willing to write fewer than 35 pieces each year.

For example, last month Vox Media, which owns SB Nation, eliminated 200 freelance writers in California thanks to AB 5.

AB 5 (Gonzalez, 2019)

AB 5 codified into law a landmark California Supreme Court decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles (2018) that set standards to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. AB 5 presumes a worker is an employee unless a hiring entity satisfies a three-factor test, and exempts from the test certain occupations. The new ABC test is a one-size-fits-all, far more restrictive and stringent test consisting of just three factors that makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for many companies and workers currently working under an independent contractor model to continue doing so.

Wilk coauthored Senate Bill 238 (Grove, 2019), legislation that would have allowed Californians to remain as independent contractors if they so desired. Unfortunately, the Senate Labor Committee blocked SB 238 on a partisan vote.  He voted against AB 5 when it came before him in the Senate.

Wilk and other legislators offered amendments to AB 5 when the bill came before the Senate that would have broadly expanded the occupations being exempted but those amendments failed on party line votes.