Opinion | Freelancers shouldn’t have horror stories
JoBeth McDaniel, a California resident with the band Freelancers vs. AB5, told me in an email that the law harmed a wide range of independent contractors. She said she always hears “new horror stories” representing just a “tiny part of the bloodshed over there”. Ms. McDaniel is also a complainant a trial which challenges AB5 on the grounds of the First Amendment, tabled by the Pacific Legal Foundation, who fights for “the right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government interference”.
Personal stories AB5, a website run by freelance writer Karen Anderson features dozens of Facebook testimonials against the ABC test applied in California. On the site, I found several testimonials from people who said they had indeed lost their jobs. Yet many other stories came from individuals predicting they would lose their jobs or turning down certain job offers because they did not want taxes deducted from their paychecks. Not quite a “bloodbath”.
According to McDaniel, most of the reporting on the ABC test has focused on “unskilled workers” who she says can easily leave their jobs if they are not satisfied, while ignoring the impact on people like writers, licensed pharmacists, medical translators. and court reporters. Its implication: White-collar freelancers shouldn’t be punished for their success before the ABC test. But my interviews over the years with dozens of Uber and Lyft drivers, medical technicians, artists, technicians and fellow journalists have shown me just how hard the working conditions of self-employed blue-collar workers and in white collar workers are very low.
O., a freelance software designer in the Bay Area (who asked me to only use his first initial for fear of losing his job) told me he owed moonlight for Uber and Lyft since 2014 to survive periodic downturns in technology. He supported AB5 but opposed Proposition 22, a subsequent voting measure that allows Uber and Lyft to continue to treat their drivers as independent contractors. He now supports the PRO law because “people need a union,” he said.
The lasting anger over AB5 has marred the understanding of the PRO Act, which only changes the NLRA, and obscured the reality of contemporary work. Opponents of the ABC test tend to overestimate both the flexibility of the freelance and the rigidity of the W2 job. In fact, thousands of union actors, electricians, art handlers, sound technicians, and healthcare workers already have short-term W2 jobs for several employers.
Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, a writer and artistic installer in New York, receives a W2 to work in museums and galleries, but is still a freelance writer with a flexible schedule. As a writer he is a member of the Independent solidarity project, an organizing initiative for freelance writers, editors, illustrators and photographers of newspapers and magazines hosted by the National Union of Writers. I joined the project last year, looking for something as close to a union as possible without having the legal right to have one.
Some of us in the Freelance Solidarity Project are misclassified permalancers (permanent freelancers like Leigh was), while others have W2 day jobs; most work for many outlets at the same time. We share advice on pitches and contracts, and exchange information on industry pricing. The PRO law would give us a key additional tool: the ability to bargain collectively with the outlets that depend on our workforce.
“The PRO law eats away at the problem of cooperation between small businesses,” Kaiser-Schatzlein explained. “Even if you’re a freelance writer and don’t want to unionize, you should at least have a group that stands up for your rights. If you do your thing and get six digits that’s fine, but you should see the benefit of grouping together to do it.
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