The two sides to AB-5, and how we can fix the gap
This article is reproduced with the permission of our partner, Trupo.
Over 20 years ago, I started Freelancers Union because I wanted to create a safety net and a new form of unionization for an emerging workforce. Now, with more than a third of this country currently identifying as independent workers, it’s clearer than ever that freelancing is here to stay – and will shape the future of work. At the same time, freelancers face a number of obstacles to their success, such as episodic payments, expensive health insurance, student loan debt, and a lack of retirement funds.
Legislation such as California’s AB-5 and similar bills proposed in New York and New Jersey aim to help contractors who are exploited and absolutely need legal protection. But what’s concerning is the misclassification of freelance workers, many of whom are directly losing their main source of income.
Freelancers work across a wide economic spectrum. A writer or photographer often relies on one or two bigger jobs (such as copywriting or marketing-related tasks) so they can pursue more creatively-fulfilling work as well.
It’s possible to be disgusted at giant companies using legal loopholes to pay their employees as little as possible while also wanting the freedom to choose freelancing.
Almost no one can afford to freelance for many small clients at once, so by having limitations on how much work a company can commission, freelancers are losing the core gigs keeping them afloat. As a result, many of the people AB-5 was meant to protect feel betrayed.
The way I see it, there's broad agreement that no one wants to hurt one group at the expense of the other. It’s possible to be disgusted at giant companies using legal loopholes to pay their employees as little as possible while also wanting the freedom to choose freelancing. And we can push for laws that protect both sets of workers.
Freelancers are an emergent constituency. Over half say that no amount of money would get them to switch back to a traditional job, 59% of non-freelancers anticipate freelancing in the future, and 52% of current freelancers are under the age of 38. And in 2019, they contributed close to $1 trillion in annual earnings.
That’s why this steady rise in freelancing requires us to build the next safety net. Looking back at the Progressive Era that paved the way for the New Deal and the Great Society, people of all viewpoints came together to manifest these support systems. They weren’t focused on antagonism or on where they disagree.
51% of freelancers polled in 2019 self-identified as politically active, and they will vote for who listens to them. Now is the best time for legislators to do it.