California Just Delivered a Death Blow to Freelance Writers Like Me

Ocean Malandra
Dec 11, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo: Times of San Diego

I have been a full-time freelance writer for over ten years. While I have bylines in everything from mainstream outlets like USA Today and Vice to niche publications like High Times and Parabola Magazine, used to write an environmental column for Paste Magazine, and am currently writing a full-length guide book to my favorite country in the world (Colombia,) one of the keys to my success (survival really) has been the ability to pick up side gigs for extra cash on the fly through writer’s marketplace type sites.

Yesterday, I received an email entitled “Notification to California Based Writers” from Scripted.com, one of the biggest content writers’ platforms out there. I would say that some years (and I have been with them for at least 5 or 6 years) they contributed to upwards of 30 percent of my income. This was usually when I was in need and in between gigs, and definitely saved my ass a number of times.

Here is what the email said:

Hi Ocean,

As you may have heard, a few months ago the State of California passed Assembly Bill 5, a new law that requires many independent contractors based in California to be reclassified as employees starting in 2020.

Scripted has always considered the writers who use our platform to be independent contractors subject to pre-AB 5 rules governing employment and independent contractor relationships under both state and federal law. We believe that classifying writers as independent contractors is the best arrangement for both our customers and writers, giving them the flexibility to set their own work times and rates as desired. Further, as a technology platform matching content buyers with content creators, Scripted does not believe that AB 5 applies to us, as we are not a publisher and content creation is not core to our business.

However, out of an abundance of caution for both ourselves and our publisher customers, as of January 1, 2020, Scripted will no longer be able to allow California-based writers to use our platform for new jobs and we will need to suspend your Scripted writer account.

Here is the Full Breakdown on AB 5.

Although I had heard about this proposal to reclassify many independent contractors, I always thought it would be done gracefully, not as a sucker-punch that leaves us out in the cold.

Truthfully, I didn’t even think it would apply to me, as it seemed to mostly be targeting Uber and Lyft drivers, and others who freelance for a single employee and work full-time hours.

So I got on that circus known as Twitter, to see what California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who drafted the legislation, had to say in the wake of these mass termination of freelance writers (Scripted counts thousands of freelancers) and others who are probably affected. Here is the closest thing to a response I could find:

Lorena

@LorenaSGonzalez

Daily thought: Don’t like what your employer did? Stand up. Organize. Fight back. You deserve more. You deserve better. Put the blame on the boss: not other workers, or unions, or laws. People who work outnumber those who employ workers. There is power in numbers & solidarity.

Employer? Boss? What planet is this elected official on? One that is super cushy and paid for by the public for sure. And one that is completely out of touch with reality.

Even crazier, she is running for Secretary of State under a “pro-worker” banner, claiming that she is protecting labor rights. So WTF is going on here folks?

It’s a Buddhist maxim that All Suffering is Caused By Ignorance, and that really truly seems to be the case here.

Maybe Gonzalez doesn’t know that freelance writing is extremely helpful for single mothers who need to be at home to take care of children — so much so that there are entire websites and jobs boards devoted to this. How are they supposed to “organize” or “fight back”? Shouldn’t she have thought about this first?

According to the San Diego Tribune, this bill will also drastically hurt traditional journalism and the freedom of the press. It would take away media outlet's abilities to hire both citizen and freelance journalists for projects and limit them to full-time employees only.

I do not want to be anyone’s employee. I am happy with my freedom.

Assemblywoman Gonzalez, if you are reading this (fat chance right?) yes we “deserve better”. So please think a little deeper about what you are doing.

Luckily, I have enough other gigs (for the time being and as long as there is not a domino effect across real journalism too) to survive without Scripted.com as a freelance writer. But that might not be the case for everyone. This well-intentioned piece of legislation is a death blow for people that count on online writing gigs to get by. And as that other old maxim goes, The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions.

For real though, California, this bill is causing mass suffering. Most freelance writers survive in the margins. I know this first hand. Does the Golden State really need more homeless people?

If you do happen to read this Assemblywoman Gonzalez, please do something. I am asking not just for myself but for tens of thousands of others that you just unwittingly crushed out of sheer ignorance.

I believe you can do better.

UPDATE: To be fair, there are policies in the freelance writing world that need to be changed. Scripted.com, for example, did not pay me on several occasions because I was not available for a 24-hour notice edit on an assignment that had been sitting in editing for a week or more. Like I am supposed to be on call and just waiting around. When I brought this up, including the fact that I didn’t think it was legal to not pay a writer after hours of work had been done and thay I am a freelancer and NOT an on-call employee, they just shrugged it off. The last time it was hundreds of dollars for hours of work.

So I understand the good intentions in this bill. But the fact is that there are many people, especially in California, who rely on online gigs to pay the rent. And this bill, coming in out of the blue and causing mass terminations, is hurting people. Hard. I am lucky in that I have other gigs. I do fairly well as a writer. But I'm still below poverty level. Many people may be pushed onto the streets because of this supposedly “progressive” bill. That's just the truth.

Ocean Malandra

Written by

Writer. Bogota to San Francisco.

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