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Transatlantic Blog

A war on freelancers is a war on women

This year, California's progressives decided to wage war on the nightmare of being your own boss. A new state law aimed at limiting the gig economy has already cost hundreds of people their jobs – and had a seriously harmful impact on women’s earnings and long-term happiness.

Assembly Bill 5 curbs the ability of companies like Uber and Lyft to classify their workers as independent contractors. The law, which codifies the California Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision into law, means companies in the $1 trillion gig economy would have to hire freelancers as employees and give them benefits, including healthcare coverage. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law on September 18. It takes effect on January 1.

The companies say that kind of change threatens their business model and could mean bankruptcy. It also means their newly designated employees can be unionized, a boon for organized labor. Teamsters organizers have already begun laying the groundwork.

But the law contains a provision that limits freelance writers to submitting 35 articles per outlet each year. (The bill’s author admits the number is “arbitrary.”)

Media outlets that rely on independent content producers are scrambling to comply with the law before it takes effect in a few days – and one of them, Vox, announced it will engage in a round of mass firings.

The bill’s author, Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, said her goal is to “preserve good jobs,” but only those that pay “a livable, sustainable wage job.” Vox apparently did not fall into that category.

The hundreds of workers Vox laid off have the opportunity to apply for the new, full-time jobs the company just announced – 20 of them.

Freelancers who love what they do can keep writing, explained John Ness, executive director of the Vox-owned website SB Nation, but they “need to understand they will not be paid for future contributions.”

Thanks to government intervention, hundreds or thousands of authors will lose their most viable source of income.

Freelance authors blame the law, not their employers, for turning their lives upside down. CNBC reports:

A writer named Rebecca Lawson, who covered the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks from San Diego, wrote a post on Monday titled, “California’s terrible AB5 came for me today, and I’m devastated.” Lawson, who was editor-in-chief of the blog Mavs Moneyball, said she would be forced to step down as of March 31.

 

“SB Nation has chosen to do the easiest thing they can to comply with California law — not work with California-based independent contractors, or any contractors elsewhere writing for California-based teams,” Lawson wrote. “I don’t blame them at all.”

The Hollywood Reporter shares the story of Arianna Jeret:

who contributes to relationship websites YourTango.com and The Good Men Project, says freelance writing has helped support her two children and handle their different school schedules. Her current gigs — covering mental health, lifestyle and entertainment — allow her to work from home, from the office and even from her children's various appointments. "There were just all of these benefits for my ability to still be an active parent in my kids' lives and also support us financially that I just couldn't find anywhere in a steady job with anybody," she says.

Similarly, author Kassy Dillon tweeted:

Not all those opposed to the new law are women, by any stretch of the imagination. Aaron Pruner, whose clients include The Washington Post, said, “Working with a baby at home is easier to do when I have my own schedule to work from, as opposed to a 9 to 5.”

But women bear the brunt of the government-imposed limit. Two-thirds of U.S. freelancers across industries are female, according to PayPal’s “U.S. Freelancer Insights Report.”

Curiously, the bill carved out vast exemptions. The San Francisco Chronicle revealed that lawmakers exempted a series of higher-paying professions including “doctors, psychologists, dentists, podiatrists, insurance agents, stock brokers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, veterinarians, direct sellers, real estate agents, hairstylists and barbers, aestheticians, commercial fishermen, marketing professionals, travel agents, graphic designers, grant writers, fine artists, enrolled agents, payment processing agents, repossession agents and human resources administrators.” But the politicians made no provision for freelance writers, despite months of heavy lobbying.

Freelance work empowers women to choose how they spend their time. Female workers have repeatedly told pollsters from across the globe – as far as Australia and Denmark – that their top workplace desire is the flexibility to create greater work-life balance. Some 40 percent of women say they would take a lower salary in exchange for more control over their schedule.

Freelancing lets women choose the hours they work and gives them control over their schedule. They may opt out of working altogether when someone gets ill, only to work night-and-day at other times, based on their needs and wishes. But the right to unionize Uber drivers has denied them that goal.

Employment is about more than a paycheck. Surveys show unemployment has a longer, more harmful impact on members of both sexes than any other adverse life effect, including divorce and widowhood. “For unemployment, there is a negative shock both in the short and long-run,” reports Our World in Data.

Unemployment also affects the human person in ways too profound to be measured by an earnings statement, poll, or survey. “Unemployment almost always wounds its victim's dignity and threatens the equilibrium of his life,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Besides the harm done to him personally, it entails many risks for his family.” Pope Francis has been outspoken about the dangers of idleness. “There is no peace without employment,” he said on the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

There is no peace for California’s freelance writers, approximately two-thirds of whom are women. This is yet another example of how economic interventionism destroys jobs, harms women, and leaves hundreds of families unable to support themselves and saddled with long-term psychological burdens.

(Photo credit: Public domain.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.