Black owned and community newspapers in the state of California are going to endure a rude and new brutal reality on January 1, 2020 when California Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) becomes law.
AB 5, introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, limits the use of classifying workers as independent contractors, rather than employees by companies in California.
Theorizing that employees are entitled to greater labor protections that are not applicable to independent contractors, AB 5 is a misguide approach to the dilemma.
The spirit of the law was purely labor union biased, but also fueled by the gig economy, individuals such as Lyft and Uber drivers who felt shorted by the industry in terms of compensation.
The legislation was approved along party lines with Democrats favoring the bill 56-15 in the Assembly, 29-11 in the Senate and finalized with the signature of Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom.
There are two prominent arguments when it comes to AB 5, one is that it would give workers previously classified as contractors minimum wage, overtime, sick leave, unemployment and other benefits, and prevent the state from losing $8 billion from payroll taxes.
The other is it would increase labor costs by up to 30%, creates higher costs for customers and reduced service, and reduces flexibility for workers.
There are some professions that are exempt from AB 5, but Black owned and community newspapers are not among doctors, dentists, psychologists, insurance agents, stockbrokers, lawyers, accountants, engineers and real estate agents.
Newspaper delivery workers will be given an extra year before compliance.
Sacramento based RSE, a company that specializes in public relations, advertising, crisis management, media planning, social marketing, community engagement and social media also falls under the exempt category.
How did community newspapers, a fledging group of media providers not receive exempt status from this law?
When local politicians need the favor of their constituents they flock to community newspapers, which has established base voters that rely on such publications for information they can trust.
Low and behold, when one of these legislators fall from grace, they run to these community based publications for crisis management support and to gain favor from the same constituents they betrayed in the first place.
AB 5 was somewhat amended for community newspapers so that free lance contributors can produce 35 articles per year without penalty to the publication, but even that is disrespectful of the media industry.
With advertising dollars shrinking, the cost of printing rising, the advance of social media dominating the industry, AB 5 is a thorn that may be too painful to endure.
Our industry is dying, and the obituary of some of our most historical publications have stopped printing, but in a progressive state such as California we don’t need legislation that would increase that frailty.
Many if not all of these community based newspapers are in Democratic strong holds, so perhaps it is time we inform our legislators directly about AB 5, and its about time they do something for our industry that is responsible for them being in office in the first place.
Finally, it’s unfortunate that we don’t invest in a severe enough protest when these laws are being debated. It’s time we pay much closer attention to what our elected servants are doing before it becomes law.