Vox Media to lay off hundreds of California freelancers over state’s gig economy laws

Vox Media to lay off hundreds of California freelancers over state’s gig economy laws

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Vox Media will be cutting ties with most California freelancers in the coming year due to the impending implementation of a bill requiring businesses to hire workers as employees instead of contractors, with a few exceptions.

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The legislation, known as Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), was approved by the California Assembly in September and subsequently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA). It is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The bill intended to change how companies like Uber and Lyft do business, but it also affects people working in other fields, such as freelance journalists.

The announcement: In a story on SB Nation, titled"Thank You, California," the site's executive director said the company will "end our contracts with most contractors at California brands" in early 2020. Contributors to the sports site SB Nation, along with those who write for Vox Media websites Eater and Curbed, will be affected by the change, reports CNBC.

"This shift is part of a business and staffing strategy that we have been exploring over the past two years, but one that is also necessary in light of California’s new independent contractor law, which goes into effect January 1, 2020. That new law makes it impossible for us to continue with our current California team site structure because it restricts contractors from producing more than 35 written content 'submissions' per year," Ness writes.

He also noted that they will encourage contributors to apply for part-time or full-time jobs at the company, instead of looking for freelancers from other states.

Oops: When the law was passed in September, Vox championed it as a victory for workers. "By making it hard for employers to misclassify employees as independent contractors, potentially millions of California workers who’ve been kept off payrolls will get basic labor rights for the first time, like overtime pay and unemployment benefits. This includes janitors, construction workers, security guards, and hotel housekeepers — and yes, this group also includes Uber and Lyft drivers." And Vox writers.

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Worth noting: Not allowing freelancers to submit more than 35 stories a year has led some companies to either cap freelance writers or reject them altogether. The Hollywood Reporter reported about "job notices in transcription, blogging and SEO writing that have stated California freelancers will not be considered," citing sources.

Pushing back: A group of freelance writers in California created a Facebook group called California Freelance Writers United and have met with lawmakers to discuss changing some aspects of the legislation.

"Unfortunately, this is exactly what we predicted would happen, and exactly what we told lawmakers would happen. There is simply no incentive for digital media companies and outlets to keep working with California-based freelance writers. Even if companies aren't misclassifying their employees, the language of the bill is simultaneously so draconian and so vague that many companies just don't want the headache of interpretation or risk of violation. And why would they? They can simply go outside of California to find more writers," the group's co-leader Alisha Grauso said.

"Vox is the most high-profile outlet we've seen laying off writers in response to AB-5 so far, but other companies have already sent out emails to CA freelancers terminating their contracts. Others are blacklisting CA-based writers from applying to freelance gigs. Frustratingly, even if a few staff jobs are added in response to AB-5 — which is unlikely except at the biggest outlets with the deepest pockets — the handful of roles created won't make up for the thousands of freelance writers losing steady gigs because of the bill. The math is completely upside-down and freelance writers are coming out on the losing end."

Writer Rebecca Lawson, who covers NBA’s Dallas Mavericks from San Diego on Monday published a piece headlined: “California’s terrible AB5 came for me today, and I’m devastated," in which she criticized the passage of the law.

Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, as the New York Times reported in August, vowed to spend $90 million on a ballot initiative that would help them circumvent the law.

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