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Melanie Burkholder
76th Assembly District candidate Melanie Burkholder (R-Carlsbad). Courtesy photo
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Burkholder challenges AB 5, interviews whistleblower Carmel Foster

REGION — The controversial Assembly Bill 5, or gig-worker bill, is the main talking point for California Republicans this election cycle.

Those against AB 5, which covers democrat and republican voters, the law asserts businesses must go through the ABC Test to ensure an independent contractor is such and not an employee.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates at least one million independent contractors have been put out of work or jeopardized by the law. Freelance groups dispute the LAO report and estimate nearly 4.5 million.

As such, Assembly District 76 candidate Melanie Burkholder (R-Carlsbad), who is challenging incumbent Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), has put the controversial legislation front and center in her campaign. In contrast, Horvath voted for AB 5.

On July 2 she hosted Carmel Foster, a whistleblower who had an affair with Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who was instrumental in the passage of AB 5. On July 9, Burkholder hosted Jennifer Oliver O’Connell, the reporter who broke the story in a three-part series in the Community Digital News.

Foster and Burkholder are calling for Ting’s resignation, an ethics investigation and Foster said a criminal probe should be conducted as well. A number of people have already filed applications for an ethics investigation through the assembly.

“AB 5 is not a partisan issue,” Burkholder said. “This is an abuse of office. She thought it would help the domestic worker and wanted to do the right thing and help thousands of folks. She realized when it passed, the totality of the circumstance, she felt used by Phil Ting and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez. She was exploited by these people who have power.”

Foster, who lives in northern California and is a South African immigrant and democrat, kept emails and text messages from Ting and others associated in her story.

She was the only witness to testify during an April 2019 hearing on AB 5 and how it would protect independent contractors from being misclassified. However, her testimony was crafted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Foster said she was not allowed to speak in her own words about the legislation, which she said she did not understand.

The law is the work of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who crafted it with the AFL-CIO union and requires businesses to ensure independent contractors are not misclassified using the ABC and Borello tests. The ABC test was introduced in 1937 as a way to protect workers.

“The fact it’s a public person and he did that, how many other people were victims?” Foster asked. “Why did he have to hide? Why would he call himself a consultant and not an assemblyman? I was put in the sucker’s pond and the common denominator was Phil.”

Foster, though, began her affair with Ting after they met on the dating site “What’s Your Price” four years ago. However, Ting used a photo of Assemblyman Phillip Chen (R-Brea), so Foster was surprised by how different Ting looked when they met.

Foster, who was homeless and living in hotel rooms, said after she started the affair, she received several out-of-the-blue job offers, including one to work in Philadelphia for Hilary Clinton’s campaign. Being a democrat, she took the job but returned to California and was called to work to help pass several propositions. Foster was then was employed by William Roelandts, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, as a caregiver.

Foster became a victim of wage theft and lost her case in front of the Labor Board for $22,000. Foster claimed she was paid $5 per hour by Roelandts’ wife, Maria.

Foster soon felt she was being exploited as a homeless, Black, South African immigrant to get several bills pushed through. Namely, AB 2314, authored by Gonzalez and Ting to protect domestic workers from Foster’s experience, and the controversial AB 5.

Some of the language within AB 2314 was included by Ting through Foster but was vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown.

Foster believes Ting, and perhaps Gonzalez, was why the bill was vetoed.

“She cared for him, but unfortunately the wife was abusive to the husband and her,” Connell said. “This was the basis of her wage theft claim and Ting knew about this.”

She even sat next to Gonzalez during her testimony, although was not permitted to meet or speak with Gonzalez before or after the hearing, Foster said. Foster said she did not understand what AB 5 was and how it would apply to independent contractors, especially since she is a contractor and is the CEO of her business, My Character References LLC.

“We cannot let people like this abuse us,” Foster said. “You’re elected.”

Once her story broke, Ting, and his Democrat colleagues, only apologized for the affair (he is married) and Ting denied exploiting Foster to push through AB 5 and AB 2314. Assemblyman Anthony Rendon and Sen. Scott Wiener tweeted they accepted Ting’s apology.

Ting railed against the three-part series in the Digital Community News as a “right-wing online site alleging that my advocacy for workers was motivated.”

Those pushing for an investigation are also alleging Ting committed wire fraud for using the photo of Chen.

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