Newspapers Get Special Delay in California Bill Reducing Independent Contractors

Los Angeles Times (Richard Vogel / Associated Press)
Richard Vogel / Associated Press

The newspaper industry lobbied for, and won, a one-year delay for newspaper delivery drivers in a new California bill on the “gig economy” that makes businesses classify workers as employees rather than independent contractors.

Companies often prefer to classify workers as independent contractors because they are not entitled to the full range of benefits and protections that make workers more expensive to hire and more difficult to fire. But a California Supreme Court decision in 2018, Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, created a new test for workers that presumes they are employees.

The new legislation, AB 5, is an attempt to codify that decision — backed by unions, the San Francisco Chronicle notes, who are hoping to gain new members as a result.

Capital Public Radio reported Tuesday that while “gig companies such as Uber and Lyft” failed to win exemptions, “the bill exempts a wide range of industries — including doctors, lawyers and hairstylists. And last night, hours ahead of the deadline for final amendments, the bill’s author rewrote a separate measure to carve out newspaper delivery workers.”

Several other industries failed to win exemptions, notably the trucking industry, except for construction truckers, Capital Public Radio reports. The Los Angeles Times reported:

[A] parade of interest groups have asked for special rules for their industries. Some succeeded: Insurance brokers and some who work in real estate professions, marketing and the arts would remain subject to the rules that existed before the 2018 court ruling.

Late Tuesday, separate legislation was introduced to allow a one-year delay for newspaper delivery drivers. The trade group representing California newspapers asked lawmakers to exclude delivery workers from being classified as employees, saying the move could further weaken the fiscal health of some publications. Management of the Los Angeles Times, as well as the paper’s editorial board, had supported that effort, and a full-page advertisement urging changes to the legislation was published in the newspaper on Tuesday.

The irony is that many newspapers take editorial stances against special interest lobbying — except when their own interests are at stake.

In an editorial backing the amendment to help newspapers, the Times even invoked President Trump’s criticism of “fake news” to justify a special provision benefiting them:

The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), has agreed to provide a laundry list of carve-outs for industries and professions that have historically operated with or as independent contractors, including healthcare providers, real estate agencies, law firms, barber shops, tax preparers and pet care services. Our industry deserves the same treatment.

Everyone knows that big newspapers as well as small ones have been shedding staff and fending off bankruptcy in recent years as a result of declining ad revenues and shrinking circulation. Add to that the constant barrage of attacks from President Trump, who views newspaper journalists as “enemies of the people,” and the particular need at this moment in history for accurate, trustworthy journalism to hold our leaders accountable. The last thing California needs is for its Legislature to deal another devastating blow to our industry.

The Washington Post observed that the bill is backed by left-wing Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), but opposed by alumni of President Barack Obama’s administration who have since gone on to work in lucrative jobs at companies like Uber.

The bill passed the State Senate along party lines and will now be presented for a final vote in the State Assembly before heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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