The Corner

Economy & Business

California vs. Freelance Writers


If you drive an Uber, you’re considered a contractor, not an employee, and thus enjoy rather limited protections from labor laws. This is one way that Uber and similar companies have avoided regulations that either needlessly interfere in the free market or provide crucial protections for workers, depending on your perspective. 

The California government, needless to say, endorses the latter view, and in a law taking effect next year aims to force companies to treat all their regular workers as proper employees. That raises a serious issue here in the journalism business, where freelance writing is pretty common.

As the Hollywood Reporter explains, writers did get an exemption, but only for their first 35 submissions for each “putative employer.” As a result, if a Californian writes three articles each month for a single publication, that publication has to treat him as a full employee. There’s been a huge outcry from writers who prefer being able to write as contractors to bring in extra money. Some publications have reportedly stopped working with freelance writers from California.

This hits close to home for me; earlier in my career, I beefed up my income a little by writing video-game and music reviews, often working on a very frequent basis for specific websites I had relationships with. Today I write part-time (though mostly not as a contractor) so I can stay home with my kids. Allowing this law to go into effect is going to hammer a lot of young and part-time writers in an industry where jobs have already been battered relentlessly by the Internet.

I do, however, appreciate the pickle the Left finds itself in. Uber’s business model threatens to weaken labor laws and labor unions, making it more difficult for the government to regulate work arrangements and rendering a major faction of the Left even less relevant. If you want the government, not the market, deciding what contracts prevail between workers and businesses, and if you rely on political and financial support from organized labor, that must be scary. And it’s hard to answer the question of why low-paid cabbies who drive regularly for a ride-sharing company must be treated as employees, but low-paid writers who contribute frequently to a publication should not.

There’s something to be said for having the same rules apply to everyone. I’d write a far more libertarian rulebook than the one we currently go by in this country, and let willing workers and willing businesses reach their own arrangements whether they sell car rides or Internet hot takes, but that’s just me.

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