Freelance Journalists Sue California Ahead of Gig Worker Law

Freelance Journalists Sue California Ahead of Gig Worker Law

The American Society of Journalists and Authors Inc., a professional association for independent writers, has decided to file a lawsuit on behalf of freelance writers to stop California’s new gig worker law, according to Billboard.

The lawsuit, which was filed by the ASJA and the National Press Photographers Association in federal court in Los Angeles, is aiming to stop the gig worker law, officially known as Assembly Bill 5, from changing the livelihoods of independent journalists including writers and photographers. The lawsuit claims that the law is unconstitutional and will devastate the lives of these freelancers.

This comes on the heels of Vox Media cutting ties to freelance writers ahead of the new law. In an article posted on SB Nation, executive director John Ness writes, “In the early weeks and months of 2020, we will end our contracts with most contractors at California brands. This shift is part of a business and staffing strategy that we have been exploring over the past two years, but one that is also necessary in light of California’s new independent contractor law, which goes into effect January 1, 2020. That new law makes it impossible for us to continue with our current California team site structure because it restricts contractors from producing more than 35 written content “submissions” per year. To comply with this new law, we will not be replacing California contractors with contractors from other states. Rather, we’re encouraging any contractors interested in one of our newly-created full-time or part-time employee positions to apply (you can find them here).”

“We have no choice but to go to court to protect the rights of independent writers and freelance journalists as a whole,” said Milton C. Toby, JD, president of ASJA in a written statement. “The stakes are too high, and we cannot stand by as our members and our colleagues face ill-conceived and potentially career-ending legislation.”

Assembly Bill 5, which takes effect Jan. 1, is full of exemptions and caveats that disfavor freelance journalists compared to other professions that engage in speech. Journalists are capped at 35 pieces of content per year, and if they exceed that, they must become employees. Journalists who record video instantly lose their ability to work independently. Marketers, grant writers, and graphic designers face no such limit.

“Under the law, a freelancer like me can write 200-plus press releases in a year for a marketing firm, and it’s no problem. But if a newspaper wants me to write a weekly column about local politics, it must put me on staff—a very unlikely prospect—or violate the law. Otherwise, I am silenced,” said San Diego freelance writer Randy Dotinga, a board member and former president of ASJA.