President’s Message

On December 6, I spent several hours at the offices of my elected representatives to discuss the implications of the Dynamex ruling issued by the California Supreme Court last spring. In a nutshell, the ruling redefines who can be classified as independent contractors not subject to California employment laws. The most problematic issue: the work an independent contractor performs cannot be part of the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.

On the surface, the ruling is pro-labor, in that it ensures that minimum wage standards are maintained, and that workers compensation, Social Security, unemployment and disability insurance are paid into the system. But the ruling is overly broad and could also be interpreted to require publishers to only use staff, no freelancers. Some publishers are concerned that they could be sued for back wages or face fines and penalties if the courts agree with a strict interpretation of the ruling.

I am one of those who has already been impacted by the Dynamex ruling. In August I was alerted to the issue by Ken Shapiro, longtime SATW member and editor at TravelAge West. The magazine’s parent company, New Jersey-based Northstar Travel Group, was resisting new assignments for California-based freelancers. That’s when I first reached out to California representatives to voice my concern. On November 1, Northstar’s California freelancers were advised by email that their services were no longer welcome, effective January 1, 2019.

I’ve been contributing to TravelAge West for 18 years, so I’ve amassed quite a cavalcade of issues containing my stories, most of which I’ve retained hard copies of (not to mention the dozens of stories that appeared online only). I was able to arrive at Senate pro Tempore Toni Atkins’ office with a stack of 57 issues containing my stories dating back to 2001, up through as recently as a few months ago. I think it made a bit of an impression! It was definitely a solid visual aid to define the work I have done, and the work I am no longer allowed to do. I also carted my magazines to the offices of Assemblymembers Gonzales and Weber, other San Diego-based representatives who will have to respond to this issue.

Ms. Atkins’ staff told me that they heard from quite a range of freelance workers, including interpreters, hairdressers, child care workers and even political campaign consultants, all of whom are concerned about the unintended consequences of the Dynamex ruling if it is allowed to stand. Bottom line: If the stance Northstar took spreads to other publishers, freelance writers will no longer be able to conduct business as California residents. And there may be Associate members of SATW who could be impacted if they are employed as independent contractors.

Fortunately, there is a bit of good news. On Monday, the first day of the 2019-2020 session, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzales introduced a bill, AB 5 (pictured), which seeks to carve out certain types of employment that would be exempted from the Dynamex ruling. Right now, the bill is very vaguely worded — you could say it’s just a place holder to get the discussion on the books. But in effect, this new bill is designed to acknowledge that the ruling was too broad, and new language will be hammered out to narrow the scope. You can see the new bill here: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml…. This text will be updated over the weeks and months to come as the goals of the final bill are refined.

BUT THIS IS NOT A DONE DEAL. If you are a California-based independent contractor and you have concerns about this issue, your state representative needs to hear from you today. To find your State Senate representative, go to http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov. For your State Assemblymember, go to https://www.assembly.ca.gov/assemblymembers.

On behalf of SATW I am working with other organizations such as ASJA and the Authors Coalition, and hopefully we’re headed on the right track to get this resolved early next year.

Sincerely,

David Swanson
SATW President

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