Capitol Alert

Travel agents, cartoonists and fishermen: New exceptions as California labor bill advances

Uber, Lyft, and other gig-economy employers will continue to be subject to a proposed labor bill they oppose after a new version of the bill passed in Senate Appropriations Friday.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 5, would codify a California Supreme Court ruling known as Dynamex that restricts when employers can classify workers as independent contractors and deny them benefits like overtime, sick leave and minimum wage.

Doctors, dentists, real estate agents, hair stylists, salespeople, among others, were already exempt from the bill. Lawmakers added provisions that would make exceptions for workers in marketing and human resources, as well as travel agents and commercial fishermen.

The news industry won exemptions for photographers, editors and cartoonists, but failed to make a case to continue treating newspaper carriers as independent contractors.

The bill, by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, is now headed to the Senate floor.

Unless lawmakers reach a compromise with rideshare companies before the measure reaches Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, California could become host to a costly battle over the future of the gig economy.

Uber and Lyft have threatened to spend $60 million on a 2020 ballot measure to try to keep their workers labeled as “independent contractors.” DoorDash, a food delivery service, said it is willing to commit $30 million to the proposed initiative, bringing the total to $90 million.

News organizations are also continuing to seek changes.

According to Gonzalez’ office, the latest version of the bill allows freelance journalists to provide a publication with up to 35 pieces of work a year before their status as independent contractors must be reviewed, up from a previous threshold of 25 submissions.

Tom Newton, executive director of the California News Publishers Association, said he thinks there shouldn’t be any cap on freelance submissions because “a successful freelancer ought to make a living doing the very best they can.”

Newspaper carriers are another sticking point, he said.

“We are very concerned this bill will move forward without addressing that major point about newspaper carriers,” Newton said. “There seems to be a lot of winners and losers, and I’m not certain that’s the best way to create public policy.”

On Friday, Newsom unveiled his picks for members on his Future of Work Commission, a group that Newsom created through an executive order earlier this year that will, in part, examine how technology is affecting workers, employers, society and the economy.

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, and James Manyika, chairman and director of the McKinsey Global Institute will lead the group.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
Elaine Chen, from the University of Chicago, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in the Bay Area and later in Beijing, China.