AB 5: Wilk co-authors bill to exempt newspapers, freelancers

State Senator Scott Wilk speaks at the Child & Family Center board installation at Sand Canyon Country Club Thursday evening. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, announced Friday two bills he co-authored that are among the latest efforts in the California Legislature to amend or overturn the controversial independent contractor law. 

Senate Bill 867 and 868, championed by State Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, specifically addresses the newspaper industry and freelance journalists by exempting them from Assembly Bill 5, the law challenging the use of independent contractors. 

More closely, AB 5 set standards to determine who is an employee or an independent contractor, detailing that a worker is an employee unless an employer can check off on a three-factor test, such as that the worker “performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring company’s business.”  

The trucking, freelance media and ride-share industries are among those that have legally challenged the law. While much of the focus has been with Uber and Lyft drivers, freelancers have lost their jobs and newspapers have had to reduce their number of distributors and carriers. 

Supporters of AB 5 say the law protects workers’ rights but opponents say the one-size-fits-all bill should not apply to all industries. The California News Publishers Association has called it an “existential threat” to newspapers. 

“I am committed to finding a way for Californians to continue working in the way that works for them,” said Wilk in a statement. “Today we are taking a first step in fixing the new law’s many flaws by helping California’s newspapers and journalists continue in their traditional way of doing business.”

SB 867

Currently, AB 5 exempts newspaper distributors from the law’s requirements for one year but SB 867 would permanently exempt newspaper distributors and carriers. 

As independent contractors, carriers have the flexibility to work for multiple newspaper publishers and create their own work schedules. Newspaper publishers argue that leaving AB 5 untouched could eventually lead to the closing of many local papers with additional costs many are unable to afford. 

SB 868

This bill would exempt freelance journalists from the rule of limiting writers to 35 articles a year per media outlet and would allow for the practice of writing an unlimited number of articles annually to continue.

AB 5’s author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, has admitted that the 35-submission figure was “arbitrary.” She is expected, however, to defend the current law amid several other pieces of legislation that have risen to weaken the bill. 

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