California Gov. Newsom numb to workers' pain

Before the coronavirus hit California, a virulent piece of legislation was already robbing workers of their jobs.  With the economy now in freefall and nearly three million unemployed, Gov. Gavin Newsom turns a deaf ear to a commonsense solution.

Last year, Gov. Newsom signed California Assembly Bill 5, by San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez.  The measure is a declaration of war against independent contractors of all kinds and the first measure to limit Californians' ability to make a living. 

The measure limits freelance writers, photographers, and videographers to 35 submissions per publication, per year.  AB-5 has also taken work from independent contractors in many fields, including health care.  The repressive measure is being challenged in the courts, but legislators have declined to suspend it.  With a pandemic on the rise, the time had come to make a case with the governor. 

"By prohibiting the use of independent contractor drivers, health care professionals, and workers in other critical areas, AB-5 is doing substantial, and avoidable, harm to the very people who now have the fewest resources and the worst alternatives available to them," said an open letter to Gov. Newsom by 151 economists and political scientists.

The signatories include Nobel laureate Vernon Smith of Chapman University, John Taylor of Stanford, Lee Ohanian of UCLA, and David Teece of U.C. Berkeley.  AB-5, they contend, has pushed all the risks and all the costs of a vibrant gig economy onto lower- and middle-income individuals, those who would benefit most from flexibility to work around the restrictive policies. 

While employers are not hiring, gig workers could shoulder the many tasks needed to flatten out the effects of the temporary emergency.  To make this possible, the 151 economists and political scientists contend, AB-5 needs to be suspended. 

At this writing, Newsom has yet to respond, but he has not hesitated to take drastic measures.  Since March 4, the governor has signed 29 executive orders, including one to make local elections vote-by-mail only. 

Also in March, legislators allowed Newson to spend more than $1 billion in the coronavirus emergency, with $500 million available immediately, and suspended public hearings and floor votes for a month.  The governor, a San Francisco Democrat, took full advantage. 

In an April 7 MSNBC appearance with Rachel Maddow, Newsom announced a deal for "upwards of 200 million masks on a monthly basis" from a manufacturer "here in the state of California."  That turned out to be the Chinese firm BYD, with no history of making personal protective equipment (PPE), a record of faulty products, and ties to the Chinese military and Communist Party. 

Los Angeles Democrat Holly Mitchell, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, fired off an official letter demanding details.  At this writing, Newsom has yet to respond.  The governor refuses his own party the details of a $1-billion deal that will provide jobs for Chinese workers and profits for a Chinese company. 

In similar style, the governor declines the advice of leading economists to suspend AB-5, which robs independent Americans of their jobs and makes the pandemic worse.  If embattled Californians thought the governor was ignoring the best interests of the workers, the state, and the nation, it would be hard to blame them. 

Lloyd Billingsley is a policy fellow at the Oakland, Calif.–based Independent Institute.