By now, you’ve likely heard about the independent contractor bills in several states that could derail how freelance writers do business in 2020. In California, for instance, where AB 5 took effect on Jan. 1, freelancers are already being blacklisted from certain publications, losing weekly columns and seeing reduced contract terms. Journalists in New Jersey (S4204/A5936) and New York (S6699A/A8721A) are pushing against similar legislation in their own states.
The details shift quickly, so here’s the latest (and where to connect with others) in 2020:
The legislation in New Jersey is halted — for now.
As of Jan. 8, New Jersey legislators won’t vote on S4204 before the session ends on Tuesday, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney told reporters. Sweeney, a Democrat who sponsored the proposed law, has stood by the idea that New Jersey’s proposal “wasn’t the same” as California’s restrictive law. After legislators heard four hours of testimony, however, he said they “want to make it right.”
“We want to be fair to legitimate independent workers,” he told NJ Advance Media on Wednesday. “But for the businesses that are gaming the system, we want to correct that.”
The measure, which was seen as a “sure thing” among some unions and businessmen in Trenton, will be taken up during the next session.
Two national groups are suing, but the process will take time.
On Dec. 17, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association filed a lawsuit in California to challenge AB 5, which restricts writers and photographers to 35 pieces of content per year per client or publication. Three days later, they asked for a temporary injunction on the law that would take effect on Jan. 1 and begin to affect freelancers immediately.
On Jan. 3, however, Federal District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez denied the request based on the timing of the motion. A full hearing for the injunction is set for March 9. (As a side note: A federal judge in San Diego did issue a temporary restraining order that exempted truck drivers from the law the day before it took effect. A hearing for a permanent injunction for truck drivers is set for Jan. 13.)
“Our rights as freelancers to work as we choose — the rights that give us the freedom we cherish — are under attack as never before,” Milt Toby wrote in an ASJA Confidential post published on Jan. 7. “A restrictive new law in California and similar legislation being considered in other states will restructure the relationships we have with our clients and change the very nature of how we work.”
Freelancers are coming together to speak up.
Last year, more than a dozen states introduced bills related to worker classification, and among those, legislation passed in California, Delaware, Illinois and Nevada, Josh Cunningham of the National Conference of State Legislatures told USA Today.
As legislation springs up in other states this year, expect freelance reporters to become even louder. The New Jersey legislation slowed down, in large part, because of freelancers who called and wrote legislators earlier this week. Although several detailed stories appeared in national outlets, this final “call your legislators” campaign seemed to tip the scales, columnist Jeff Edelstein wrote in The Trentonian on Thursday.
“From writers to truckers, from strippers to plumbers, from everyone who gets to everyone else who gives a 1099, it was those calls to the offices of their statewide elected officials that put the kibosh — for now — on this legislation,” he said.
The New Jersey group, for instance, created a group called Fight for Freelancers (here’s their Twitter and Facebook) to provide more information about the bills in their state, speak directly to NJ lawmakers and tell stories about freelancers in different fields (writing, pharmacy, design, food) who would be affected by the legislation. They’re using the hashtag #fightforfreelancers across social media. It now has more than 1,000 members.
Their sister group, Fight for Freelancers NY (and Twitter and Facebook), uses the same hashtag and tracks the progress in New York. With more than 700 independent contractors, the group includes writers, musicians, realtors, truckers, financiers, teachers, photographers and more.
“Many people still haven’t heard of the bill, but as the Senate goes back into session, we expect this to gain traction,” said Kristin Bundy, a health care and science journalist who is part of the New York group.
“We are working mothers, people with disabilities, small business owners, and people who need or prefer freedom,” she said. “We are action- and information-oriented.”
In 2020, the strength will come in numbers. Turn to the pages mentioned above, as well as the California Freelance Writers United Facebook page, to ask questions and get involved.