When he’s not studying, Aldon Thomas Stiles, 25, a senior at Cal State Bernardino, writes freelance articles to help pay his way through college and assist his parents with the bills at home in Fontana.
The Fontana Herald, Screen Rant, Westside Story News and several African-American newspapers around the state have published Stiles’ articles in the past.
“Freelancing is an incredibly convenient work opportunity,” says Stiles, who is African American. “It has helped me hone my skills as a journalist at my own pace and work on stories I’m passionate about, all from home.”
Stiles says the money he makes freelancing helps him keep a roof over his head while in school and that his schedule would have prevented him from working as a full-time writer while he pursued his degree in Criminal Justice.
Now, AB 5, a new California law that takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, threatens the livelihood of California freelance journalists like Stiles, critics argue, calling the legislation “unconstitutional.”
The legislation that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in September and takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, limits the number of freelance articles journalists in California like Stiles can write for any one publication to 35 per year.
For budding writers like Stiles who can get paid, on average, about $100 per article, that adds up to only about $3,500 a year.
Last week, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc., (ASJA), a national professional organization that represents independent non-fiction authors, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state of California to prevent AB 5 from impacting its members.
“We have no choice but to go to court to protect the rights of independent writers and freelance journalists as a whole,” said Milton C. Toby, president of ASJA. “The stakes are too high, and we cannot stand by as our members and our colleagues face ill-conceived and potentially career-ending legislation.”
“This law as written, even if it has good intentions, sadly, is an affront to first amendment constitutional protections,” says Regina Wilson, Executive Editor of California Black Media. “It’s unfair and inconsistent, too. How can you allow freelancers who write marketing copy and press releases to work unrestricted while taking food off the table of freelance journalists who are writers and photographers? Their words and images contribute to our national historical record and they provide critical information to the public.”
“It will no doubt hurt the bottom lines of small ethnic-owned media businesses in the State. They already lag behind their mainstream counterparts,” Wilson added. “We have to do something about this.”
Supporters of AB 5, introduced by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), praise the legislation for closing loopholes, they say, employers use to underpay workers and deny them benefits like health insurance, minimum wage, paid parental leave, etc., that state law requires for full-time employees.
“Big businesses shouldn’t be able to pass their costs on to taxpayers while depriving workers of the labor law protections they are rightfully entitled to,” said Gonzalez in May when the Assembly voted 59-15 to pass AB 5.
“Freelance journalism is a whole different ballgame and this law ignoring that is a travesty,” said Antonio Ray Harvey, a Sacramento-based African-American writer. “It’s not like there are a lot of journalism jobs out there nowadays,” said Harvey. “We have to maintain our careers and pay our bills.”