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Legislative inaction could be disastrous for news industry

An informed citizenry relies on independent contractor delivery

CNPA

Sacramento,California (PR MediaRelease) August 29, 2019

Dear CNPA Member,
Against mighty opposition, staff is working hard to convince the state legislature to protect the independent contractor status of newspaper carriers. Staff is asking members to publish an op-ed we drafted to support CNPA’s efforts. Attached you will find two different op-ed pieces – one is more forceful and direct, the other softer in tone.
Staff requests that you consider publishing whichever piece you are most comfortable with as soon as possible. CNPA continues to ask for common sense amendments to AB 5 (Gonzalez) to address independent news carriers.  If you have any questions, please contact CNPA General Counsel Jim Ewert at 916.288.6013 or jim@cnpa.com.  If you have not yet discussed this issue with your legislators, we encourage you to call them now.
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OP/ED 726 words

Legislative inaction could be disastrous for news industry
An informed citizenry relies on independent contractor delivery
 
By Thomas W. Newton and James W. Ewert
This could be one of the last newspapers you get delivered to your home.
That may sound incredible, but a bill working its way through the Legislature could, if passed, end the home delivery of some newspapers in California.
Assembly Bill 5, which has been characterized primarily as a fight over whether Lyft and Uber drivers should be company employees, would have much broader impacts on the California economy. Simply put: AB 5 will likely cause the death knell for some printed version of California newspapers. It’s not the only challenge to professional journalism in 2019, but it is by far the most serious.
AB 5 would force all businesses to hire independent contractors as employees – unless the business has been given a special exemption by the Legislature. So far, the Legislature has refused to grant one to the newspaper industry. That’s critical because although many newspapers are union-represented shops, they rely on independent contractors in the form of newspaper delivery carriers and freelance journalists.
Some well-funded industries have been granted exemptions, such as doctors and real estate agents. Newspapers need one as well if we are to keep them in California.
Organized labor organizations are divided over this issue. While some are eager to try to organize workforces like Uber drivers, others know it will mean a loss of union jobs – including those in our newsrooms.
Thousands of newspaper carriers, most of whom deliver several different newspapers, would lose their jobs if AB 5 passes.
In densely populated areas, some newspapers may still circulate, although the costs of a subscription will increase substantially. Those in more rural or sparsely populated areas simply won’t have the option to get a newspaper delivered to their home at any price. Digital connectivity can be spotty in rural areas, where engaged citizens who receive printed news deeply value their daily delivery.
In recent days it appears there is some interest in the Legislature in delaying AB 5 and taking it up in 2020 when California and the rest of the nation will be distracted by the presidential election. We implore the governor and Legislature not to postpone acting on the bill, which could be just as disastrous for newspapers.
AB 5 was prompted by a California Supreme Court decision that overruled a 30-year precedent by declaring that workers can only maintain independent contractor status if a business and contractor can pass a three-part test known as the ABC test. While there’s merit to the court’s decree that a simpler test was needed, it’s also true that the one-size-fits-all test doesn’t work for everyone in California’s dynamic economy.
AB 5 was supposed to strike a balance by both codifying the ABC test and providing exemptions to protect independent status for certain time-tested independent work relationships.
Without legislative relief, millions of independent workers in California, including independent newspaper carriers, may not pass the new test. The reason most independent workers won’t pass the test is not because of anything to do with their working conditions; it’s because the “B” prong of the ABC test only allows independent contractor relationships where the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.
And unless the governor and Legislature act this month to resolve the conflict, newspapers will have to follow the court’s direction. That’s why pushing off a decision on AB 5 is also untenable for the future of news in California.
As newspaper circulation is reduced, advertising revenue is reduced. Reduction of both circulation and ad revenue will force newspapers to employ fewer journalists. This will result in fewer stories being told, less investigation of corruption, and ultimately, an inability for citizens to gain the information necessary for self-governance. All of this at a time when access to authoritative, reliable information is more important than ever.
Newspapers aren’t Uber or Lyft. It also isn’t an unfathomably complicated task to provide relief for newspapers, the largest of which have union-represented employees, without opening the door to those who seek to exploit workers. For the past 40 years newspapers and carriers have complied with a stringent regulation that governs when a newspaper carrier can be considered an independent contractor. This test is tough but fair, and solely applies to newspaper delivery, yet it won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on unless AB 5 is amended to recognize it.
Thomas W. Newton is the executive director of the California News Publishers Association. James W. Ewert is its general counsel and advocate.
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OP/ED 669 words

 

Legislative inaction could be disastrous for news industry
An informed citizenry relies on independent contractor delivery
 
By Thomas W. Newton and James W. Ewert
A recent California Supreme Court decision combined with inaction by the legislature could spell disaster for the newspaper industry and the communities newspapers serve.
Last year, California’s high court overruled its own 30-year-old precedent and declared that workers can only maintain independent contractor status if a business and contractor can pass a three-part test known as the ABC test. While there’s merit to the court’s decree that a simpler test was needed, it’s also true that the one-size-fits-all test doesn’t work for everyone in California’s dynamic economy.
That’s where the California Legislature comes in. A bill known as AB 5 is supposed to strike a balance by both codifying the ABC test and providing exemptions to protect independent status for certain time-tested independent work relationships.
Some professions – like doctors, lawyers, hairdressers and real estate agents – sought and received relief in the bill. Yet many long-standing independent contractor relationships remain in peril.
Without legislative relief, millions of independent workers in California, including independent newspaper carriers, will not pass the new test. The reason most independent workers won’t pass the test is not because of anything to do with their working conditions; it’s because the “B” prong of the ABC test only allows independent contractor relationships where the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.
Opponents of the “gig economy” argue that everything will work out and all these workers will just become employees.
In the case of newspaper carriers, no, they won’t.
It remains to be seen what exactly will happen if newspapers aren’t granted relief from the ABC test in AB 5, but one thing is clear: Thousands of independent carrier positions will be eliminated.
For those folks lucky enough to be in an area where newspaper delivery is still an option, they will have to pay a lot more for it. Those in more rural or sparsely populated areas simply won’t have the option to get a newspaper delivered to their home, at any price. Digital connectivity can be spotty in rural areas, where engaged citizens who receive printed news deeply value their daily delivery.
As newspaper circulation is reduced, advertising revenue is reduced. Reduction of both circulation and ad revenue will force newspapers to employ fewer journalists. This will result in fewer stories being told, less investigation of corruption, and ultimately, an inability for citizens to gain the information necessary for self-governance. All of this at a time when access to authoritative, reliable information is more important than ever.
A community with a strong newspaper is a strong community. Recent research says both readers and non-readers substantially benefit from their newspaper: cleaner government, better economy, more folks willing to run for office, better environment, lower government debt, less corruption. Newspapers create a community forum for the betterment of all.
Newspapers aren’t Uber or Lyft. It also isn’t an unfathomably complicated task to provide relief for newspaper carriers without opening the door to those who seek to exploit workers. For the past 40 years, newspapers and carriers have complied with a stringent regulation that governs when a newspaper carrier can be considered an independent contractor. This test is tough but fair, and solely applies to newspaper delivery, yet it won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on unless AB 5 is amended to recognize it.
If the legislature adjourns without helping newspapers and carriers and the communities they serve by simply recognizing the stringent test that has worked for the last 40 years, it won’t kill all newspapers immediately, but it might kill some. And it will definitely be a major blow to an industry already facing declining revenues. In the long run, though, this failure of the legislature to act would be a tipping point in the history of California newspapers and the public’s right to know.
Thomas W. Newton is the executive director of the California News Publishers Association. James W. Ewert is its general counsel and advocate.

CNPA’s mission is to serve the common interests of its members and newsmedia, and foster the highest ideals, ethics and traditions of journalism, a free press and the news profession.

Joe Wirt
CNPA Services Inc.
Director of Affiliate Relations
9162886021
joe@cnpa.com

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