Exempting some contract workers

By Lauren Hepler

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 2257 is a follow-up to last year’s hotly contested worker reclassification law AB 5, which was meant to extend employee benefits like health insurance and family leave to independent contractors, in particular those employed by gig companies like Uber and Lyft. But gig companies still haven’t complied, and workers in other industries — musicians, writers, business consultants and many others — have instead been up in arms about losing work after their contract jobs got caught up in the war over 21st century workers rights. This bill would amend the state labor code to exempt dozens of professional services fields from AB 5’s employee benefit requirements, including photographers, artists, writers, musicians, cartographers, translators and many others.

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

A labor coalition similar to the one that passed AB 5 — AB 2257 was written by the same San Diego assembly member, Lorena Gonzalez — plus industry groups that have lobbied to have their industries exempted from stricter contract labor law.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Companies, some contract workers and business lobbying groups that are still bound by AB 5’s stricter rules oppose the exemption bill and instead favor a complete repeal of the law. Among the opponents of AB 2257 are gig companies including Uber and Lyft, who are backing a $110 million Prop. 22 ballot measure campaign to pass their own exemption to AB 5.

WHY IT MATTERS

Surging unemployment during the coronavirus-induced recession has changed the conversation about the future of work in California. AB 5 was passed at the height of a tech boom that highlighted widening inequality in the state, when labor groups were emboldened to demand more from deep-pocketed tech companies largely operating outside regulations that apply to old-line industries. 

But at the same time that gig companies were ascending and corporations were converting full-time jobs to contract ones, professional creatives and consultants were opting for freelance work in record numbers. Contractors who had figured out a way to make it work said their livelihoods were jeopardized by AB 5’s strict requirements. Now, with millions of unemployed or under-employed Californians seeking out odd contract jobs to get by, the question is whether stronger labor laws will hold up to mounting economic anxiety — or at least how many industries will be able to wiggle their ways out through AB 2257 and other looming political battles.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Newsom signed the bill into law on Sept. 4.