AB5: California’s much-predicted freelancer disaster

“California’s new employment law has boomeranged and is starting to crush freelancers” [Elaine Pofeldt, CNBC; Kerry Flynn, CNN Business] “As with many of my colleagues today, because I live in California, I was just told that I can no longer hold a paid position with SB Nation.” [Rebecca Lawson, Mavs Moneyball; Whitson Gordon thread on Twitter] “Separately, there’s some bit of irony in the fact that just a few months ago, Vox itself had a headline celebrating AB5 calling it a ‘victory for workers everywhere.’ Except, I guess, the freelancers who worked for Vox.” [Mike Masnick, Techdirt] “These were never good jobs,” claims the measure’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), but lots of freelancers have made clear they disagree [Billy Binion] “Mainstream politicians and pundits love to cite ‘unintended consequences’ when their preferred policies cause harm in the exact ways libertarians said they would.” [Elizabeth Nolan Brown, earlier]

More: impacts on music, theater, and the performing arts make AB5 a creative-unfriendly law [Joshua Kosman and Carolyn Said, San Francisco Chronicle]


  • I know someone who was a part-time instructor at 3 different universities for years until they got a tenure-track job. This hatred of independent workers is sick and reflects a belief that jobs are magical somehow, and should always provide all the wonderful benefits. Another example is the belief that being a waitress or working the cash register at a restaurant should enable you to support a family (a “living wage”) when in reality those are jobs for people starting out to get experience or for those between jobs. Unless you can live in Beverly Hills they think you are being exploited.

    • Not sure how cashiers do, but waiting on tables can be a decently remunerated, family-supporting job, most especially because of tips. Of course another branch of progressive workplace activists are trying to stamp out tip-dependent compensation too, but that’s another story.

      • Walter, it’s actually not “another story.” It’s the same story — thinking that “government” (which just means the kind of people who would serve in government) knows better than the market or the private sector.

        • Mr. H, I believe that there is, in fact, “another story” here. Cash tips are inconvenient for unions, such as SEIU, which organize restaurant employees, because the money goes directly to the tipped employee before the union can get its rake-off.
          I think that is the real motivation for efforts to ban tip compensation.

  • Part time and Freelance workers are a problem to some because they can’t be unionized. That’s the reason for these laws. The reason that “These were never good jobs” is that they are not dues paying Union jobs.

  • SCotUS has ruled (1995) for freelance writers getting paid

    United States v. Treasury Employees, 513 U.S. 454 (1995)

    The 1995 case has a similarity to California’s impending regulation: Freelance writers being treated as acceptable collateral damage in political struggles that did not concern them. In 1995, SCotUS ruled that freelance authors (and presumably artists) enjoy special protections under the First Amendment. Proposed laws that infringe their livelihood are subject to extra scrutiny, to ensure they are tailored to the minimum required to meet a valid government purpose.

    In 1989, there was a political panic about Congressional book deals– influential Congressmen making bulk sales of mediocre books to lobbyists, as a way to get around income limitations. Congress responded with typical overkill– a ban on book payments not just to Congressmen and other senior policy-makers, but also to 1,700,000 rank-and-file Federal employees. If your letter-carrier wanted, in his spare time, to supplement his income with paid lectures on local history, he would be out of luck.

    Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion throwing out this ban, far too broad for any reasonable anti-corruption purpose. (He suggested Congress could try again with a bill restricted to senior policy-makers.)

    Justice Stevens specifically rejected an argument likely to be made by California officials– that free speech can be exercised under the First Amendment even if the speaker cannot be paid. In the real World, a payment ban means less speech. Speakers have to make a living like everyone else.

    >”Publishers compensate authors because compensation provides a significant >incentive toward more expression.
    >Footnote 14:
    >”This proposition is self-evident even to those who do not fully accept Samuel >Johnson’s cynical comment: ” ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.’ >” J. Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. 302 (R. Hutchins ed. 1952).”


    California legislators believe the “gig economy” (freelancing) is abusive to broad categories of workers. Under the First Amendment, however, they either have to exempt freelance authors, or tailor special regulations to maximize opportunities for free expression.

    • Hugo points out that “California legislators believe the “gig economy” (freelancing) is abusive to broad categories of workers.” They reject the idea that people freely choose their jobs. If you are delusional and think an acting gig or writing gig now and then is going to become a career, you should be free to entertain this delusion. It is also the case that people can piece together a living out of gigs when they can’t find a full-time job, or even make a good living this way. Again, this is a choice.

  • […] for which the 1950s are often (wrongly) idealized.’ That very same goal is at the root of California’s unfolding debacle with AB5, a law that tries to force many lines of freelancing into a direct-employment model and is […]

  • […] on the chaotic, destructive effects of California’s AB5 (earlier here, here, […]