Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

California moves one step closer to reining in the gig economy and expanding worker protections

September 4th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

A million California workers are denied key workplace protections—including the minimum wage—because their employers falsely label them as independent contractors. But that came one step closer to changing on Friday when the state Senate’s appropriations committee passed Assembly Bill 5, a plan to crack down on that misclassification of workers.

AB5 is based on a 2018 decision by the California Supreme Court that imposed a stricter test for whether a worker could be considered an independent contractor. Companies can’t call workers independent contractors if the work they do is central to the company’s mission or if the company substantially directs their work, the court ruled. The legislation will make enforcement significantly easier, but it also includes a lot of exemptions for professions such as doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, accountants, insurance agents, hairstylists, and more.

The trucking industry and app-based companies like Uber and Lyft have been screaming for exemptions but so far, their efforts are in vain. “Trucking has some of the worst violators,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill’s author. “We are not going to strip out employee protections.” Uber, Lyft, and others are threatening to pour $90 million into a campaign for a ballot measure exempting them, which could become a massive fight in 2020.

Other workers who will be covered by AB5 include janitors, construction workers, manicurists, strippers, and some in the tech industry. Being an employee means protections including the minimum wage, overtime, workers comp, sick leave, family leave, and more, in addition to employer payments for Social Security and Medicare. Companies also don’t pay payroll taxes on independent contractors, shorting the state of California by an estimated $7 billion a year on misclassified workers.

The bill, which passed the state Assembly, heads to the full Senate for a vote that’s expected to succeed. According to a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, “The governor is supportive of addressing the misclassification of workers, which for decades has been a driver of income inequality.”

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on September 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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