What the Rest of the Country Can Learn from California’s AB5 Woes

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California is home to countless independent contractors — or at least it was, before the state’s AB5 law made it almost impossible for them to operate freely.

Now, the state is suing Uber and Lyft for allegedly misclassifying workers under the law. But this counterproductive lawsuit — and others like it — only make it more difficult for gig workers to navigate the already tumultuous waters of this pandemic. As one contractor from the Bay Area put it: “Just having AB5 was bad. But coronavirus has made it even worse for most of us.”

As an independent contractor and a gig worker, one of the greatest joys I’ve found is being able to work for myself. That’s why I’m appalled at California’s efforts to rip what should be a source of pride away from thousands of workers.

I started doing gig work three years ago in an effort to exercise more. I had just broken my leg in three places, and I needed to work on losing weight. I took a job as an on-demand grocery shopper — I saw it as a gym membership I didn’t have to pay for.

When I lost my full-time job, gig work became my main source of income. Now, I just use it to save money, or for emergencies. In every case, I’ve been fortunate enough to make my gig job work for me.

I’m also lucky to live in a state where I can still gig when I want to, and where I can continue my contractor work. But growing efforts to pass laws like AB5 nationally have me increasingly worried about the future of my livelihood, and the livelihood of my fellow workers.

I run a Facebook group with 9,000 members, all of whom enjoy the flexibility and independence that comes with on-demand grocery shopping (my gig specialty). We share tips and tricks, and offer other advice to help make our businesses more successful. It’s an amazing community that even encouraged me to launch this website where I keep track of this advice, and other testimonials from fellow workers.

If AB5 was to go into effect nationally — as some politicians have called for — what would happen to these thousands of workers who have chosen not to be full-time employees? It’s an even more concerning prospect since the pandemic wiped out — or at least put on hold — many traditional full-time jobs.

I believe each gig worker is running their own business, and they have the right to do so as they see fit. The community I’ve helped build is full of people who enjoy working part-time or outside of a typical 9-5 work day, especially with young children at home. They also love the opportunity to serve their communities, and to provide much-needed services for their most vulnerable neighbors.

Countless contractors have found a purpose in gig work, not to mention an income that helps support them and their families. That’s no small feat, and it’s an opportunity that should be preserved.

Unfortunately in California, it seems that ship has sailed for the time being. Hopefully, the challenges workers now face in the Golden State can be a lesson to the rest of the country to think twice before jumping on the AB5 bandwagon.