Why School Districts Are Worried About California’s New Gig Worker Law
It was a bill meant to rein in exploitative labor practices by companies like Uber and Lyft. Now, public school districts have joined a long line of industries also struggling to comply with Assembly Bill 5.
What is AB5?
AB5 codified and expanded a 2018 ruling by the California Supreme Court which implemented a so-called “ABC” test to determine employment classification.
In Dynamex Operations West, Inc. vs. Superior Court of Los Angeles, the California Supreme Court ruled that a worker must meet all three criteria to be considered an independent contractor for purposes of wage orders: A) the worker must be free from the company’s control and direction B) they must be performing work that is outside the company’s usual course of business and C) the worker must be customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work being performed.
Under AB 5, that test is applicable, not just to wage orders, but for any claim brought under the Labor Code or the Unemployment Insurance Code. The risk is up to $25,000 per violation.
Since AB5 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, many professionals—from writers and musicians to interpreters, nurses, and therapists—say they have been negatively impacted. The fallout has prompted dozens of cleanup bills in Sacramento.
Schools Feel the Impact
As Voice of San Diego (VOSD) reports, concerns about AB5 are now hitting California’s public schools. That’s because they work with thousands of independent contractors—visiting coaches, art instructors, dance teachers, and special education providers—who may have to be full-fledged employees under the new law.
For cash-strapped districts and rural schools especially, the added costs could mean a loss of services.
“We do want to make it really clear that there are impacts that affect not just our relationship with contractors but on our teaching experiences and our students,” Manny Rubio, spokesman for Sweetwater Union High School District, told VOSD. “It would be great if we could figure out exemptions that help our students and the community.”
Vallecitos School District Superintendent Maritza Koeppen is worried about the nurse that comes into her rural district from time to time on a contract basis. Koeppen says there is no way she could bring her on as an employee.
“If strictly enforced, [AB 5] will certainly have a detrimental effect on our district,” Mark Stephens, superintendent of Borrego Springs Unified School District, added.
The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), has always acknowledged that the bill is a work in progress, and she continues to work with groups who want exemptions. But a carve-out for public education doesn’t sound like it’s in the cards.
“Cutting those requirements creates a race to the bottom that the assemblywoman is not interested in,” said her Chief of Staff Evan McLaughlin.
Read more about the dilemma facing some school districts at VOSD.