Newspapers likely to get one-year reprieve from labor rules that would have made carriers employees

Newspapers could get a one-year reprieve from new labor rules that would have forced companies to treat newspaper delivery workers as employees under a bill amended Tuesday evening.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez announced the last-minute changes just before the deadline to amend bills before lawmakers break for their year-end recess Friday. She authored Assembly Bill 5, which would reclassify many workers as employees who are entitled to benefits and protections, as well as the separate bill to will exempt the newspaper carriers.

AB 5 codifies new employment classification rules under a California Supreme Court decision known as “Dynamex” that would expand which workers are considered employees.

“Due to demands made in the Senate regarding the Dynamex decision’s implications for the newspaper industry, our office has amended Assembly Bill 170 to allow for a one-year delay in implementation for newspapers delivery services,” the San Diego Democrat said in a statement. “While I personally disagree with this delay, I’m willing to allow the newspaper industry the additional year to comply if it means those delivery drivers and nearly a million other misclassified workers are provided the minimum wage, benefits and workplace rights of Assembly Bill 5.”

Newspaper companies said classifying carriers as employees would have threatened their business model and imperiled papers already under financial stress.

Newspaper publishers were among many groups that lobbied for an exemption from the new rules. Gonzalez had already agreed to exemptions for dozens of other professions, including doctors, lawyers, architects and freelance journalists who do fewer than 35 assignments for a single publication in a year.

Republicans had proposed amendments to also exempt physical therapists, interpreters and several other groups in addition to newspaper carriers.

Newspaper carriers are the only group for whom Gonzalez has announced an 11th-hour exception.

AB 170 won’t be eligible for a vote until Friday because the last-minute amendments must be in print and available to the public at least three days before lawmakers can pass it. In the meantime, the Senate voted 29 to 11 to pass AB 5 Tuesday evening, sending it back to the Assembly for final legislative approval.

Republicans submitted their proposed changes through 12 sets of amendments, holding up debate on the Senate floor Tuesday evening.

Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove said the bill will hurt Californians who choose to work as independent contractors and criticized the process by which exempt industries were chosen.

“This Legislature should not be in the business of picking favorites, which is exactly what this legislation does,” the Bakersfield Republican said.

Several Democratic senators supporting the bill said they planned to continue negotiating details employee classification laws next year, but in the meantime said AB 5 provided important rights and certainty to many workers.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, urged her colleagues to support the bill Tuesday night and make additional changes later as necessary.

“This bill from my perspective is good news, because it provides protections as appropriate,” Mitchell said. “This is an important first step… There will be more work to do.”

If the Assembly also passes the measure, it will go to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has has said he supports it.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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