Press Release: California Freelance Writers United Proposes Amendment to AB5


December 22, 2019 – California: Set to go into effect on January 1, CA Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), signed into law on September 18, 2019, has already dealt a devastating blow to California’s independent writers, freelance journalists, editors, photographers and casters (audio, video, digital, etc.)—a segment of independent contractors and small business owners navigating an already economically challenged industry.

In addition to supporting the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association’s lawsuit against the state of California in defense of independent contractor writers and visual journalists’ constitutional rights, California Freelance Writers United (CAFWU) aims to work with legislators to amend AB5.

CAFWU Proposal for AB5 Amendment

CAFWU’s proposals aim to protect independent contractors’ rights to self-determination and will prevent the otherwise inevitable catastrophic loss of income they will face as clients blacklist California writers. These proposals will also safeguard the interests of newly developed newsroom unions and writers experiencing exploitation at the hands of unethical employers. CAFWU requests the following be considered as an amendment to AB5 expeditiously once California’s legislature reconvenes on January 6, 2020:

Remove the submission cap. AB5 draws unconstitutional content-based distinctions about who can work as an independent contractor, limiting only certain speakers—writers, editors, still photographers, and visual journalists—to 35 submissions per client, per year, and precluding some freelancers from making video recordings. Graphic designers, grant writers and marketing writers are similar communicators who have been given full exemptions.

All speakers are protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and must be treated equally by law.

Incorporate language exempting contractors who operate their businesses off-site. The criteria for classification of writers, editors, various casters (video, audio, radio, podcast, stills, etc.) as independent contractors in this exemption should be:

The contractor works outside the place of business of the client for which the service is performed using his/her/their own equipment.

This can be determined by having a central business location outside the clients’ place of business (a home office or shared workspace for example). Independent contractors would still be allowed to take meetings with their client or use studio space on-site. Classification will go by the primary location where the independent contractor does the majority of their work, which can be established by evidence including but not limited to a business license, incorporation, rental agreement for space, and location of tax filing.

Work done primarily on-site can require employee status. This will protect newsroom staffs, as newsrooms require on-site office work. They will not be able to misclassify their workers as freelancers, because they cannot let them work off-site or outsource from other states.

In 2020, AB5’s language citing “freelance writer, editor, or newspaper cartoonist” fails to reflect the appropriate level of nuance that exists in media today, as independent writers and freelance journalists work across mediums. That said, the above exemptions must be applied to writers, editors, still photographers, visual journalists, and casters (including but not limited to videographers, radio, podcasters, and online vloggers who use YouTube or another digital platform).

California Freelance Writers United Contacts:

Maressa Brown
Founder & Co-Leader

Fred Topel

Alisha Grauso

National media coverage:

AP News: California freelance journalists sue over new state law

CNN: Publishers prepare for new California law that puts limits on freelance journalists

The Hollywood Reporter: Vox Media Ends Work With California Freelance Writers Ahead of Gig Economy Law