California’s Pending AB5 Gig Economy Law Now Protects Music Workers
Members of the live music industry are celebrating an agreement that was reached today on pending amendments to the recently introduced gig economy law in California, Assembly Bill 5 (AB5).
AB5 was created as a response to rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, attempting to make it harder for gig-based companies to position drivers as independent contractors, who lack perks like benefits, instead of proper employees. But due to the nature of their work, myriad members of the music community were lumped into the law, thanks to broad legal phrasing. The original version of AB5 could be considered a win for ride-share drivers but not independent and smaller-scale artists, who could have been forced to offer a full employee salary to any crew member, producer, or songwriter that worked for them on a contractual basis. For artists financially incapable of taking on the higher costs associated with salaried employment, many might’ve been put out of a career.
Many of the industry’s workers have been living in an elevated state of fear and uncertainty since COVID-19 forced America indoors — and the notion that this law was not in their favor had made things worse. But the reworked language of the law on Friday allows most music professionals to once again access the Borello test, which decides if a person is an employer instead of an independent contractor, to determine employment classification for both live performances and studio recordings.
The good news for music workers comes at a fitting time: This weekend would’ve been the second weekend of Coachella, which has — like all other mass events — been shunted down the calendar thanks to coronavirus.
Exactly a year ago, approximately 99,000 music fans were swarming the California desert’s Empire Polo Field to attend the festival. Artists small and large were preparing for a stage slot that has been said to launch careers to another level, and their crews were depending on the pay day. No one could’ve expected what 2020 dished out — that touring, which heats up in tandem with festival season, would take the enormous hit that it has. In an uncertain time rife with anxiety, the AB5 win may just make things a little brighter for artists sitting at home, worried about the post-pandemic future.
The new language was agreed upon by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), Music Artists Coalition (MAC), Independent Music Professionals United (IMPU), Songwriters of North America (SONA), American Federation of Musicians (AFM), the Recording Academy, International Allegiance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) and Teamsters.