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Vox Media Ends Work With California Freelance Writers Ahead of Gig Economy Law

Los Angeles
Ilja Mask / EyeEm

Los Angeles

Vox Media will be ending contracts with California freelance writers ahead of the state's implementation of a bill intended to protect workers from exploitation as independent contractors.

In a story on SB Nation's website published Monday titled "Thank You, California," SB Nation executive director John Ness writes that "in the early weeks and months of 2020, we will end our contracts with most contractors at California brands." He adds, "This shift is part of a business and staffing strategy that we have been exploring over the past two years, but one that is also necessary in light of California’s new independent contractor law, which goes into effect January 1, 2020. That new law makes it impossible for us to continue with our current California team site structure because it restricts contractors from producing more than 35 written content 'submissions' per year."   

Ness adds that SB Nation will not be replacing California jobs with freelancers in other states, but will be encouraging its current freelance writers to apply for full- and part-time jobs with the brand.

CNBC reported Monday that, in addition to SB Nation, Vox Media websites Eater and Curbed will also change their relationship with California freelancers, which will result in "hundreds" of gigs being cut. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Vox Media for a comment.

Vox Media, led by CEO Jim Bankoff, joins several other publications in revamping their relationship to California freelancers in the wake of the AB-5 bill being signed into law in Sept. 18. Sources tell THR that Business Insider has capped freelance writers at writing 35 articles per year, reacting to the law's language that 35 "submissions" may be provided per year. Sources have additionally provided THR with job notices in transcription, blogging and SEO writing that have stated California freelancers will not be considered.

Intended to protect independent contractors from being exploited and codifying an earlier court decision into law, AB-5 aims to end the misclassification of workers as freelancers when they do work that is integral to a company's business model. A provision in the bill that states that a freelance journalist is capped at writing 35 "submissions" per year per "putative employer" has drawn ire from freelance writers, however, who fear their livelihoods are at stake.

A group of California freelance writers has since organized the Facebook group California Freelance Writers United, met with legislators regarding a proposed amendment and organized a group get-together for the first time in person on Sunday at The Wing in Los Angeles to discuss future plans. 

"Unfortunately, this is exactly what we predicted would happen, and exactly what we told lawmakers would happen. There is simply no incentive for digital media companies and outlets to keep working with California-based freelance writers,"  California Freelance Writers United co-leader Alisha Grauso said in a statement to THR. "Even if companies aren't misclassifying their employees, the language of the bill is simultaneously so draconian and so vague that many companies just don't want the headache of interpretation or risk of violation. And why would they? They can simply go outside of California to find more writers."

Added Grauso, "Vox is the most high-profile outlet we've seen laying off writers in response to AB-5 so far, but other companies have already sent out emails to CA freelancers terminating their contracts. Others are blacklisting CA-based writers from applying to freelance gigs. Frustratingly, even if a few staff jobs are added in response to AB-5 — which is unlikely except at the biggest outlets with the deepest pockets — the handful of roles created won't make up for the thousands of freelance writers losing steady gigs because of the bill. The math is completely upside-down and freelance writers are coming out on the losing end."

Similar gig economy legislation is also being currently considered in New Jersey and New York, where freelance writers have also pushed back against such proposed measures. 

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.


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