There are unintended consequences, and then there is outright obliviousness. Despite a number of journalism outlets declaring that jobs would be threatened by the passage of new legislation — the Assembly Bill 5, or AB-5 –the California legislature ended up passing the bill, with Governor Gavin Newsom signing it into law. The journalism outlet Vox came out in October to deliver a strong level of support for AB-5, declaring how needed it was to preserve the jobs of freelance writers.
Now the very same outlet has come out with a revealing announcement — hundreds of freelance writers for the site will be put out of work. In a statement on its sports-centered website, SB Nation, the Executive Director John Ness announced that the outlet would be cutting ties with freelancers, offsetting that writing work to existing staff. The reason cited was the implementation of the new independent contractor law.
AB-5 was drawn up in response to a problem that did not exist, offering a solution that not only few people wanted but managed to affect industries not originally targeted. Initially, the focus was on ride-share companies, and second-party food delivery enterprises, such as DoorDash. The thrust of the bill was to convert the contract workers for Uber, and Lyft into full-time employees. The idea was to essentially force companies involved in what is called the gig-economy to begin offering benefits, oblivious to how independent contractors work.
It was soon realized however that this proposed legislation would extend to far more than just the accursed-in-politician-eyes ride-share entities. Once the bill’s language was seen it was realized that freelance writers would also be one of the employment sectors swept up into the mix. As it is set up now AB-5 stipulates that freelance writers cannot produce more than 35 pieces annually for an outlet, otherwise, they must then be taken on as a hired employee.
As a result, Vox Media has announced that over 200 freelance contributors will be terminated. Most freelancers will have from 30-90 days before termination. Again this is a direct result of the rollout of AB-5, which will become an active law in California on January 1. This needs to be noted because Vox had lent its full support of the passage of this new law, stating that this would be in the best interests of freelance writers.
It was just this past October when Vox was hailing this law. Not unlike other times when politicians and sympathetic media try to exert policy on businesses, this one proved that the contentions made in political chambers are often ignorant of market realities. When companies were mandated to give healthcare policies in accordance with Obamacare the end result was widespread cutting of hours to part-time status. The calls for a minimum wage hike to $15 hourly — ‘’because companies can afford it’’ goes the claims — have led to job cuts, and even businesses closing down in the areas where it has been implemented.
Now we see Vox Media acting out in opposition to the very claims made in Vox regarding AB-5. In one of its trademark ‘’explainers’’ we were delivered something that was the polar opposite of a sober and reasoned summation of the law, instead being fed prolix more attuned to an agitprop pamphlet by a PAC-funded activist group.
”Hundreds of thousands of independent contractors in California,’’ said Alexia Fernandez, on October 21, in Vox, ”will likely become employees under AB 5. So would many freelance journalists who do four or more assignments each month for one news outlet.’’ The declarations that these contract workers would simply be absorbed into corporate payrolls are now shown to be baseless.
Shown by the very source that made the claims. It is rather amazing that in less than two months an outlet disproves itself in such stark fashion.
The Vox piece from October unintentionally made the case for why this was an unrealistic goal. A list of all the spoils the newly gainful employment would provide: labor protections, unemployment insurance, health care subsidies, paid parental leave, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, and a guaranteed $12 minimum hourly wage. Vox described this labor largesse as ”a small status change’’, again reflecting a functional ignorance as to how labor costs are the biggest expense for most companies. ”It also means companies are fuming about the added cost,’’ wrote Fernandez.
Well, it appears weeks later it is Vox that was actually fuming. Another common reality we see whenever these government ‘’solutions’’ are enacted is those who come forward and declare how they were correct all along in anticipating such an outcome. “Unfortunately, this is exactly what we predicted would happen,’’ said Alisha Grauso, co-leader of the lobbying group California Freelance Writers United, ”and exactly what we told lawmakers would happen. There is simply no incentive for digital media companies and outlets to keep working with California-based freelance writers.”
Grauso then gave word to the unintended consequences that ultimately arise from these very types of labor laws. ”The language of the bill is simultaneously so draconian and so vague that many companies just don’t want the headache of interpretation or risk of violation. And why would they? They can simply go outside of California to find more writers.”
That hoped-for transition of freelancers to full employment? After stating that over 200 writers are let go Vox Media said those laid off are welcome to apply for some of the full time and part-time positions they are offering as a response to this change — a total of 20 or so of which are being offered.
Honestly, I might offer career advice and suggest maybe you do not want to work for an outlet that claims to be looking out for your best interests but then undercuts you over the very same issue it promoted. It seems to be the kind of employer Vox was in fact warning against.