Will State’s New Freelance Law Kill Showbiz?

One of the many ramifications of California’s new freelance law which will require companies to hire independent contractors as employees may be the death of Los Angeles’ claim to be the entertainment-industry capital of the world as freelance industry professionals prepare to seek more open work environments elsewhere.

The controversial law known as Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) was signed by Governor Newsom on Sept. 18 and goes into effect Jan.1, 2020. The new law is already very unpopular with many of the gig economy workers at companies like Uber, Lyft and Doordash that it was designed to help, as many prefer the freedom of a free-lance work status and designing their own schedule to regular hours as an employee. It may have a negative boomerang effect in the sense that it is doubtful that companies like Uber will hire all their drivers as employees.

It appears as if the legislative minds in Sacramento that dreamt this bill up did not think it through completely or fully consider its consequences, one of which may be that it may drive away many of California’s free-lance professionals and force show business to relocate.

Some companies are reluctantly severing ties with freelancers they can’t afford to hire as employees. Many freelancers spread their work over various companies and prefer to manage their own work. Some claim that they make a lot more money freelancing than they could as an employee.

For many, the new law could be the end of their work life as they know it. Freelance writers, for example, may submit no more than 35 articles per year to a publication under the new law. Some publishers will no longer accept work from California journalists, according to Columbia Journalism Review. For some freelance writers, 35 stories a month is not unusual and they feel professionally stymied by the arbitrary cap of 35 stories a year.

“Get ready Nashville and New York — it looks like you’re about to have your own recorded-music boom,” wrote the Recording Industry Association of America, A2IM and the Music Artists Coalition in a joint statement, according to Forbes.

The music industry has always been a gig economy and will be hard hit under the new law. The effect on every level of the music business from artists, producers, composers, session players, backup singers, arrangers and orchestrators to part-time teachers, music technicians and bar bands will be disastrous. Non-union self-employed workers will suffer the most.

Some Musician’s Union local 47 members who, when they play a session, work as Sony studio employees are less affected by the new law. El Vaquero spoke to a veteran studio musician and union officer who supports it, saying, “this is not an official union position, but for myself, as a union member and official, we support the right of workers to collectively bargain and to be paid a living wage for their work. Workers should be paid benefits including unemployment insurance and social security. When you’re self-employed, you don’t accrue the benefits that you do as an employee.”

Some of the professions that were exempted from the new law are doctors, lawyers and investment advisers, though not exempted were many of the other free-lancers with jobs which keep LA functioning.

Intentional or not, the effects of this law on those many non-exempt professions will be drastically counter-productive. AB5 should be repealed.

According to the California Secretary of State, “Article II, Section 9, of the California Constitution provides for the referendum process in California. Electors have the power to approve or reject statutes or parts of statutes, with the exception of urgency statutes, statutes calling elections, and statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual, current state expenses.”

Instigating a repeal of AB5 through the referendum process may be the only hope to save jobs and stop a brain-drain which will kill show biz in Hollywood.

A. Heimer can be reached at [email protected].