Death Throes for AB 5?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The exemption arrows have found their mark in the Achilles heel of AB 5, the controversial and highly contested worker classification law. On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 2257 by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez adding many more exemptions to the law that now total over 100. 

Ironically, it was Gonzalez who created AB 5 with the backing of the California Federation of Labor and who powered it through the legislature and into law. With AB 2257 and the added exemptions, Gonzalez is trying to fix the law and it keep it alive. However, the new exemptions may be the lead chorus of a death rattle for the law that would reach a crescendo on November 3 if Proposition 22 passes taking Uber, Lyft and other app-driven delivery services out from under AB 5. The original law was constructed with Uber and Lyft specifically in mind.

Over a year ago, when AB 5 was being debated I began a column this way: “The Achilles heel of the bill to define workers role in the gig economy just might be a growing list of exemptions in the measure.” 

The list keeps growing proving that many jobs in the new economy are not meant for the tighter strictures demanded previously in governing labor.

At a Capitol rally in support of the bill last year, Speaker Anthony Rendon, claimed that the unfettered gig economy is really taking workers back to feudalism. But many workers in the new economy see it differently. They prefer the role of independent contractor to employee. Many workers believe that the gig economy gives them the flexibility to shape their own lives and that placing workers under old restrictions is what will take us backward. Not adjusting to the nature of California’s gig economy could cripple many start-up businesses.

Over the weekend, Carla Marinucci had an interesting angle on the new exemptions, telling readers of Politico that former California Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown can now continue his weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Freelance writers, along with musicians, interpreters, photographers and others were added to the AB 5 exemption list with Newsom’s signature on AB 2257.

Brown had a too-close for comfort call with AB 5 and didn’t like what he saw. “If there was a place to picket organized labor, I’d do it today,” Brown told Marinucci. “If there was a place to picket a legislator, I’d do it.” He implied that the labor movement took advantage of the legislature in seeing AB 5 pass.

Now, the focus turns to the big fish of Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and the like app-delivery services. They are supporting Proposition 22 to be exempt from AB 5. These businesses were the prime target of AB 5 worker re-classification with labor unions looking for an opportunity to grow their membership. If Prop 22 succeeds at the polls, adding even more, exemptions–and in this case the prime targets of the law–a valid question is why should AB 5 exist at all?

The ever-growing list of exemptions coupled with the success of Proposition 22 could mean the end of AB 5 is near. 

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