Freelancers start national group to oppose independent contractor legislation

Carolyn Crist

About Carolyn Crist

Carolyn Crist (@cristcarolyn) helps AHCJ’s freelance members find the resources, tips and contacts they need to create and run a successful business. A freelance journalist and author, Crist covers health, medicine and science stories for national news outlets such as Reuters, Runner’s World and Parade. She also writes for trade and custom publications. Contact her at carolyn@healthjournalism.org.

Karon Warren

Karon Warren

Spurred to action after the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act passed the House on Feb. 6, a group of freelance writers created a website, Twitter and Facebook group for Fight for Freelancers USA — and they want every type of independent contractor to join the fight.

“Anybody who gets a 1099 should be in the group,” said Karon Warren, a 20-year freelance writer based in Georgia who co-founded the group. Warren and fellow members of the American Society of Journalists and Authors created the group to mirror the Fight for Freelancers NJ and Fight for Freelancers NY groups.

“Although it’s populated with writers right now, some photographers and musicians have also joined,” she said. “Anybody who is a contractor — a sales consultant for Mary Kay or Avon, a real estate agent, an IT consultant, a caterer, a tutor, a translator, a contract nurse or doctor — should join us.”

Primarily, the group is focused on changing the language of the PRO Act to eliminate the ABC test used to determine employment status, especially since the ABC test in the national legislation pulls from the AB5 law in California, which has received negative feedback. Featured on the group’s website under the tab “IRS not ABC,” it says the ABC test is “20th-century thinking for 21st-century work.”

As the group explains, the PRO Act was amended in late 2019 to include the ABC test, which was created in 1937 for worker classification during the Great Depression. It’s a three-prong test that requires independent contractors to pass all three prongs or otherwise be reclassified as an employee. The phrasing of the prongs can be vague and difficult to untangle, which can cause freelancers to “fail” a prong and be allowed to be classified as an employee, even if they have an LLC or S-Corp. In contrast, Warren says, the IRS has a test that has evolved over the years to stay current with the changing nature of work.

“The work landscape has changed so much, and the ABC test is no longer relevant to how people work,” Warren said. “We’re not asking to do away with the PRO Act but to use the IRS test, which has always updated how to classify workers as the tax code changes.”

Warren and I chatted about a few more details related to the national group:

AHCJ: Why did you start the group?

Warren: I’ve been watching what was going on with AB5 in California, and I have a few clients based there, but I wasn’t necessarily at risk with my work. Then suddenly, legislation popped up in New Jersey and New York, and the more it spread, the more concerned I became. I followed the Fight for Freelancers NJ group, and then we started hearing about the PRO Act. But who was talking about it? Other than a few posts on Twitter, there was no real conversation about it.

Then a group of ASJA members — particularly the Atlanta chapter — began talking about doing something. We knew we needed a group with reach and that we need to create a larger impact for a nationwide law. I talked with (fellow ASJA member) Kim Kavin about the New Jersey group and what she thought about doing a national group that focused solely on the efforts of the PRO Act. Now with 10 administrators and moderators from different states, it’s a big team effort. That’s what we need at a grassroots level.

AHCJ:  What else concerns you about this legislation?

Warren: Many people still don’t know that it affects them, not only writers but also musicians, performers, management consultants, tech developers, therapists, translators, event and meeting planners, truckers, limousine drivers, real estate agents and photo/video/creative professionals. I’ve posted in several #Binder groups [on Facebook] to encourage people to rally, and they respond that it’s only about pro-unions and doesn’t have anything to do with them.

However, you can’t simply look at the surface of this one. You have to dig into the deep end of it to understand how it’s going to affect you.

AHCJ: If any AHCJ members decide they want to get behind this, what should they do?

Warren: Contact your representatives. Then tell your friends and encourage them to tell their friends. We’re reaching out to organizations such as the National Association of Realtors and the American Society of Travel Advisors because their members could lose their careers — not just clients but their whole careers. This could apply to your sources or colleagues in your beat, including travel nurses, the home health care industry, therapists, and a whole group of health practitioners who are in high demand but don’t work on a W2.

We need to reach beyond our writer colleagues — if legislators only hear from a portion of the 56 million Americans who work as independent contractors, they won’t be as concerned about it in the face of pro-union money. We need action across industries to raise the voice of 56 million. I implore you to think about the people you work with and who could be affected.

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