REGION — More than 2 million Californians have filed for unemployment benefits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting Republican lawmakers to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to temporarily suspend Assembly Bill 5, known as the gig-worker bill, in an effort to ease growing economic uncertainty.
Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), who has actively worked to repeal AB 5 since it was signed into law in September, has requested the governor use his authority under the state’s Emergency Services Act to issue a moratorium on the union-backed initiative.
“I’m very strongly urging the governor to suspend the law,” Kiley told The Coast News. “I’ve supported the way Newsom has handled this crisis — taking the right steps and putting the public interest first. I hope he sees an important piece of that is to remove restrictions from those working at home.”
Since January, Kiley has started an online petition, hosted a “Rally to Repeal AB 5,” and has co-authored two bills, AB 1928 and AB 2075, with Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore), seeking to repeal, delay or modify AB 5.
While Kiley has applauded Gov. Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sacramento-area legislator believes the current health crisis only adds to the urgency of suspending the state’s worker-classification bill.
I commend @GavinNewsom’s strong actions to mitigate #COVID19. He should now use his powers under the Emergency Services Act to suspend enforcement of any law that makes it more difficult for people to work remotely or for healthcare workers to provide care. This includes #AB5. pic.twitter.com/rAoYV1TWMW
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) March 12, 2020
“This is a double-whammy for freelance workers,” Kiley said, noting independent contractors have lost employment opportunities to both AB5 and coronavirus. “We are in a state of lockdown, yet we have a new law that prohibits (independent contractors) from working inside their homes.”
During an April 9 interview with KUSI News, former Congressman Darrell Issa joined Kiley in calling on Gov. Newsom to suspend the law.
Issa, a Republican candidate for the 50th Congressional District seat, expressed concerns about limiting job opportunities as statewide unemployment levels reach unprecedented levels.
“As soon as we’re past the first medical surge of COVID-19, we’ll need to do everything we can to get Californians back to work and our economy moving again,” Issa told KUSI. “This is going to require all of us rowing in the same direction to turbocharge our economy and that won’t happen if workers are banned from earning a living and job creators and businesses have one arm tied behind their back by AB5.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) voiced support for repealing the bill in a tweet last month, saying, “From the start, #AB5 has crushed the gig economy, leading to many lost jobs for freelancers. As our country continues to navigate coronavirus, Gov Newsom + the California State Legislature must repeal this bill, or at minimum, stop its current enforcement and support gig workers.”
In a press conference last month, Gov. Newsom made a plea for retired medical professionals to return to work, and even suggested the possibility of fast-tracking medical students to help combat the crisis, according to CBS8.
But despite growing demand for medical professionals, many independent contractors within the healthcare sector remain out of work, Kiley said.
“Nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, translators — all of these people could be working right now, but are prohibited because of AB 5,” Kiley said. “Not to mention all the workers who could fill all the gaps created by the statewide shutdown of institutions and services, such as online teachers.”
AB 5, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), prevents employers from misclassifying employees as freelance workers by establishing a three-prong test to determine whether an employee is eligible to receive benefits, such as paid sick leave.
“The rationale originally offered for the bill was that it was merely codifying the Dynamex decision,” Kiley said. “But it did more than that. It took a limited ruling and placed it at the center of California labor law. And I’ve fought it every step of the way as its impact continues to grow.”
When Gonzalez was asked during a recent press conference whether she would work to suspend AB 5 to help combat rising unemployment, Gonzalez said the last thing lawmakers should do is take away unemployment insurance from people who recently obtained employment status or from workers who are currently misclassified but still eligible for benefits.
“I think it is ludicrous to make this into a political issue when it is clear, clear as day, that what we were trying to do was right,” Gonzalez said. “Workers, all workers, deserve the right to paid time off if they are sick, to minimum wage and overtime, to unemployment insurance when suddenly out of nowhere, their job goes away. What we’re trying to do today is not repeal AB 5, it’s to ensure that all of those workers who, and there are a lot of them, who are not protected by workplace protections, also have relief.”
But it’s not just a handful of GOP lawmakers seeking to freeze the law until after the current health crisis subsides.
Michael Towe, owner of Santee-based M2 Video Productions, and several of his colleagues have created a website, “Repeal AB 5 Now,” which includes video testimonials to raise awareness about AB 5’s effects on independent contractors.
Towe, who met with Gonzalez at her office in San Diego to voice his concerns about the bill, said he understands the issue of worker exploitation, but he feels there are larger interests at work.
“I understand the spirit of the law,” Towe said. “They are trying to protect minimum wage workers and I support that. However, I think (Gonzalez) is heavily influenced by the funding she has received from organized labor.
“Initially, (Gonzalez and supporters) were going after Uber and Lyft,” Towe said. “But instead of pulling out a harpoon, they cast a giant gillnet. And now, a lot of us small fish are tangled up in the net and drowning — all because they wanted to get a couple big fish.”