Gov. Newsom signs bill that gives one-year exemption for newspapers to keep carriers as contractors

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation into law that gives newspapers a one-year extension before they must comply with another law increasing labor protections for delivery workers.

The bill, AB 323, allows newspapers to continue classifying their paper carriers as independent contractors through Jan. 1, 2022. The governor signed the measure on Wednesday.

The law continues a temporary exemption put in place last year in response to enactment of AB 5. That 2018 landmark legislation gives so-called “gig workers” eligibility for benefits typically reserved for full-time employees such as overtime, sick leave and unemployment pay. But it has been under attack since passage.

Without the extension for newspapers, the distribution costs for The Press Democrat would have increased 60% and could have forced delivery cutbacks to rural parts of the North Coast, said Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat and other regional publications.

On Sept. 4, Newsom had signed into law AB 2257, which provides greater carve-outs from AB 5 by removing workers such as freelance writers, editors, photographers and newspaper cartoonists from the landmark law.

The California News Publishers Association, which represents more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers, plan to work with lawmakers next year to reach a long-term solution regarding paper delivery personnel, said Chuck Champion, president and CEO. To treat news carriers as full-time workers rather than contractors would be quite costly for newspaper companies and could cause many more papers statewide to reduce news coverage or fold, publishers have said.

His group needs to do a better job of educating legislators on the importance of the exemption given that print editions are still significant revenue for local newspapers even with younger readers who consume news digitally, Champion said. “It’s critical. It continues to service a segment of our community, often an older generation,” he said of newspapers.

“I can’t imagine what it would have been like to go through a year like 2020 without our community newspapers informing us about what’s going on,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, a co-sponsor of AB 323 along with Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. “They are essential to the future of our very democracy and we must do what we can to keep them operating.”

Regarding another business-related bill, Newsom on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have given hospitality workers top priority to be rehired in the positions in which they were furloughed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill, AB 3216, had been backed by labor unions that argued their members could be discriminated against in rehiring as hotels and other events businesses start to ramp up when the economy recovers.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or [email protected] On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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