Thursday, September 12, 2019

Calif. rule on independent contractors could spread, hitting newspapers hard, affecting freelance writers and carriers

A legal battle over independent contractors in California could have an outsized impact on the state's newspaper industry, and could spread to the rest of the nation. Newly approved Assembly Bill 5, which Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign, requires companies to treat many "gig economy" workers as employees, Jill Cowan reports for The New York Times. The bill, which is mainly aimed at app-based companies like Uber and DoorDash, says workers must be designated as employees instead of contractors if a company exerts significant control over how they perform their work or if their work is part of a company's regular business.

Publishers across the state say the bill could devastate newspapers, as they might no longer be able to pay newspaper carriers and many freelance writers. "For many local newspapers, the changes — which are set to go into effect in one year for newspapers, a small concession the industry’s lobbyists won from lawmakers — could force them to end home delivery," Cowan reports. "The law also limits the number of contributions from freelance journalists to 35; any more than that would require newspapers to pay them as employees."

Jim Ewart, the general counsel of the California News Publishers Association, said it's important to remember that hiring independent contractors to deliver newspapers has been a practice since the nation's beginnings: "The model is not part of the gig economy. It’s not Uber and Lyft. It’s certainly not some recent invention by newspapers to circumvent labor laws in California."

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