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California Could Give Newspapers a 2-Year Labor Law Reprieve

 

By AP News Published Aug 11, 2020 01:54 pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California newspaper companies would have two more years to comply with a state law requiring them to treat newspaper delivery people like employees instead of contractors, under a bill that took its first step in the Legislature on Tuesday.

The same bill would require state departments and agencies to place their marketing and outreach advertising with community and ethnic news outlets, helping an industry that has had revenues devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

A law that took effect earlier this year makes it harder for companies to treat their workers as contractors who are not entitled to minimum wage and certain benefits.

It was most prominently aimed at ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft. A judge on Monday ordered those companies to treat their California drivers as employees — with benefits including overtime, sick leave and expense reimbursement.

But newspaper companies have said treating carriers as employees would drive up costs and accelerate the decline of printed newspapers.

Lawmakers had already provided a one-year reprieve to newspapers from the contractor law, which the bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park would extend to Jan. 1, 2023.

California News Publishers Association general counsel Jim Ewert said newspapers had been using this year to look at alternative distribution models.

“Then COVID19 happened,” he told the Senate labor committee.

Advertising plummeted by half, forcing 18 of the state’s newspapers to shut down their print editions “because they just couldn’t make ends meet,” Ewert said.

While many newspapers are trying to shift all content to online editions, “print revenue is still their life blood,” he said.

Extending the deadline for making the newspaper delivery people employees by two years ”would provide some breathing space necessary for these newspapers to get back on their feet.”

Without it, he predicted that more newspapers will close or limit home delivery.

Rubio said community and ethnic news outlets would be particularly hard hit and perhaps most helped by an infusion of state advertising revenue. Neither her office nor legislative analysts could say how much revenue that might generate.

“I know the importance of having dynamic media options available in a host of languages,” Rubio said.

There was no opposition as the bill passed the labor committee. But the California Broadcasters Association asked Rubio to amend it to clarify that the ads could be placed with all local news outlets, not just newspapers.

Rubio cited a recent industry analysis that newspapers could face an 85% increase in distribution costs related to the new law.

 

Read: California Needs to Save Community Newspapers

 

The contractor law’s author, Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, opposes extending the exemption. And two of the five senators on the labor committee made it clear they view it as a temporary reprieve due to the coronavirus.

Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara both supported the bill.

“At the same time we want to make sure workers are protected as well and that they have the benefit they get from being employees,” said Pan.

“COVID is a crisis, but it’s my hope that we don’t use it as an excuse,” added Jackson.

Gonzalez has another bill with implications for the media sector that previously cleared the committee.

It would include an end to what critics have said are unworkable limits on services provided by freelance still photographers, photojournalists, freelance writers, editors, and newspaper cartoonists, with certain restrictions to make sure they are not replacing current employees.

Both bills next go to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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