Freelance writers and photographers are not the only critics of the law. (Courtesy photo)

Freelance writers and photographers are not the only critics of the law. (Courtesy photo)

Freelance journalists file suit calling AB5 unconstitutional

Under the state’s landmark labor law AB5, which goes into effect Jan. 1, news outlets can publish no more than 35 pieces per year

Organizations representing freelance journalists are mounting a legal challenge to a new California law that aims to rein in companies’ use of independent contractors by placing certain restrictions on contract work.

Under the state’s landmark labor law AB5, which goes into effect Jan. 1, news outlets can publish no more than 35 pieces per year from an individual freelancer writer before that journalist must be classified as a part- or full-time employee. Some freelancers worry publishers will let them go rather than convert them to employees _ a designation that guarantees some benefits and protections.

One day after Vox Media announced that it will cut hundreds of freelance writers living in California or covering California sports teams, two freelancers groups filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles alleging that AB5 unconstitutionally restricts free speech and the media. The groups _ the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association _ are represented pro bono by the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation.

“When AB5 was signed into law, our members in California were understandably upset,” said Milton C. Toby, president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, which represents 1,100 freelance writers nationwide, including about 120 in California. “Some companies are beginning to not hire or let go of California freelancers in anticipation of the law.”

Proponents of AB5 say the law will reduce the number of workers wrongly labeled as independent contractors and thus denied benefits and protections. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who authored the law, tweeted that it’s “certainly not all bad” that Vox Media will create 20 part- or full-time positions to replace the freelancers it will cut.

The Los Angeles Times shifted about 30 contract workers to staff positions last year, following a far-reaching that set a standard assuming workers are employees if their jobs are central to a company’s core business or management directs the way their work is done. AB 5 codified that court decision.

Freelance writers and photographers are not the only critics of the law.

Gig-economy companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash launched a campaign against the legislation, arguing that treating workers as employees would hobble them in California, one of their biggest US markets, and set a precedent for other states to enact similar legislation. The companies have said they will spend tens of millions on a ballot measure opposing the law if they are not able to carve out alternative rules for drivers.

The California Trucking Association filed a lawsuit last month, arguing it hurts their ability to provide trucking services, marking the first challenge to the law.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the writers and photographers, has a history of defending employer-interests, among other libertarian causes such as property rights, and has received funding from prominent conservative donors including the Scaife family.

The Pacific Legal Foundation argues that putting a cap on the number of stories a journalist can write for a single publication is unfair since similar restrictions aren’t placed on other industries, such as graphic design. “Such selective and unequal treatment among members of speaking professions violates the right to earn an honest living free from both irrational government interference and regulation based solely on the content of their speech,” a statement on the Pacific Legal Foundation website reads.

“The government cannot single out journalists,” said Jim Manley, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, in a statement.

Gonzalez noted the group’s track record in a statement: “First, it was the Endangered Species Act, then women on corporate boards, and now the Pacific Legal Foundation is attacking California’s landmark workplace rights law. That should come as no surprise to anyone.”

Steve Smith, spokesperson for the California Labor Federation which sponsored AB5, said he hopes efforts to tweak the law will result in industry-specific fixes over the next year.

“We don’t know how companies react, and what actions they take. So we want to see companies do the right thing, and hire more journalists as employees, but we also recognize some companies are not going to do that,” Smith said. “Given the situation, we want to continue the discussion.”

(c)2019 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Bay Area NewsCaliforniaPolitics

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays attends an event to honor the San Francisco Giants' 2014 World Series victory on Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
Willie Mays turns 90: San Francisco celebrates the greatest Giant

By Al Saracevic Examiner staff writer I couldn’t believe it. Willie Mays… Continue reading

Ja’Mari Oliver, center, 11, a fifth grader at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, is surrounded by his classmates at a protest outside the Safeway at Church and Market streets on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in support of him following an April 26 incident where he was falsely accused by an employee of stealing. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
School community rallies behind Black classmate stopped at Safeway

‘When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us’

A warning notice sits under the windshield wiper of a recreational vehicle belonging to a homeless man named David as it sits parked on De Wolf Street near Alemany Boulevard on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. A proposed SF Municipal Transportation Agency law would make it illegal for overnight parking on the side street for vehicles taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA to resume ‘poverty tows’ amid calls to make temporary ban permanent

Fines and fees hurt low-income, homeless residents, but officials say they are a necessary tool

Income from Shared Spaces will provide financial resources to the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency, according to its director, Jeffrey Tumlin. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA director says Shared Spaces serves transit agency’s financial interest

$10.6 million price tag for program raises concerns among transit agency’s board members

A broad coalition of tenants and housing rights organizers rally at Stanley Mosk Courthouse to protest eviction orders issued against renters Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Federal judge strikes down CDC’s national moratorium on evictions

David Yaffe-Bellany, Noah Buhayar Los Angeles Times A federal judge in Washington… Continue reading

Most Read