Law Against Gigs Also Gags Free Speech

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A California law that goes into effect in January next year will ignore decades of precedent and codify a bad court decision -- making many freelancers (including Uber drivers) into employees in that state. (I blogged about Assembly Bill 5 and wrote a RealClear Markets piece on it before it was passed.)

That this blatant attack on freedom of contract makes it harder for so many people to earn a living is bad enough. But Kassy Dillon, a freelance writer who is affected notes that it even manages to violate freedom of speech due in part to the fact that it caps freelance journalists at 35 articles per outlet:

She likes being her own boss, but the state of California thinks she should have two bosses, including a union boss. (Image by Tran Mau Tri Tam, via SOURCE, license.)
It's worth mentioning that [the bill's sponsor, Lorena] Gonzalez is not only telling freelancers how much they can write, she is using her Twitter platform to determine who is and is not a journalist. After facing criticism from New York Magazine and HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali, Gonzalez responded by claiming, "Yashar isn't a journalist, he's not a constituent." Who is a journalist and who is not isn't something for government officials to decide.


The law also appears to be regulating the First Amendment's freedom of the press. In what dystopia is the government able to restrict how much a journalist can write? Not since the totalitarian governments of the mid-20th century has a Western government dared to regulate or limit the written word. It's maddening, but the law is also laughably misguided. [bold added]
I agree with Dillon that the law is a heavy-handed attempt to grow and entrench labor unions, but I find her too generous in that regard. Consider the following, from a story that described some of the behind-the-scenes sausage-making:
Gov. Gavin Newsom is reported to have offered tactical advice to Uber and Lyft as they sought an exemption from the bill's potential impact: Get organized labor's blessing for the maneuver or face insurmountable opposition in the Legislature.
The unions have hated Uber since its inception: How the hell did Newsom keep a straight face when he offered this "advice?" The article (and many others) goes on to note that the legislation is hardly the last on the subject because it is so flawed. Newsom couldn't even muster a token veto? Travesties like this are rarely the product of a good-faith effort, however misguided.

In addition to even more legislation and inevitable legal challenges, it is likely that there will be a state ballot initiative to repeal or limit this new law next fall. I hope it is well-crafted.

This law is an reprehensible attack on freedom of contract as it is. The fact that it is a threat to freedom of speech makes challenge or repeal all the more urgent.

-- CAV

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