Notoriously liberal Vox Media has laid off hundreds of freelance employees shortly before a law that it previously praised goes into effect in January.
The contractors who were let go were all based in California, and that was no coincidence. The company’s sports website SB Nation cited a very specific piece of legislation that made it difficult to keep them on.
“In 2020, we will move California’s team blogs from our established system with hundreds of contractors to a new one run by a team of new SB Nation employees,” the company wrote.
“This shift is part of a business and staffing strategy that we have been exploring over the past two years, but one that is also necessary in light of California’s new independent contractor law, which goes into effect January 1, 2020.”
One may even feel a twinge of sympathy for Vox Media. It can be hard to do business in California and it’s unlikely that the administrators were giddy about the chance to revoke a source of income from so many people.
Of course, that sympathy would dissolve pretty quickly when one remembers that Vox championed that very same law as it was passed by the California legislature.
Back in September, Vox ran the soon-to-be-ironic headline “Gig Workers’ Win in California is a Victory for Workers Everywhere” in a piece celebrating the passage of the bill.
Well, every worker except Vox workers, apparently.
Vox was beaming back when it claimed that “hundreds of thousands of workers — possibly millions — will see an immediate impact on their working conditions after the switch.”
As we see now, those working conditions were definitely impacted.
According to the new law, nonemployees are forbidden from submitting more than 35 pieces per year, CNBC reported.
John Ness, the executive director of SB Nation, told CNBC that contractors were welcome to apply for full- or part-time positions and they can continue contributing to the publication but they “need to understand they will not be paid for future contributions.”
“We know this may be a difficult decision, so we’re giving everyone affected 30 days to decide what works for them,” Ness said.
These California contractors fell victim to yet another example of unintended consequences from “look at how progressive we are” legislation.
The law itself was meant to make it difficult for companies to classify employees as contractors, which in turn would make said employees eligible for higher earnings and benefits in many cases.
SB Nation Mavs Moneyball editor-in-chief Rebecca Lawson wrote about the impact the new law has had on her and her fellow California contractors as she announced she was being forced to step down.
“While there is a small carve-out in the statute that allows for paid writers or editors to continue to produce a very limited amount of content per company, it’s not nearly enough, and it would be hard for me or most of my colleagues to fit in that small box,” she wrote.
“This is a passion project for me. Personally, while the extra income helps my family, it doesn’t break us to lose it. But I have literally HUNDREDS of amazing colleagues all across our network who DO rely on this money to help, and who are going to have to replace that income somewhere else, somehow.”
She added, “I am heartbroken that the state I love so much has forced a company I love working for to cut formal ties with people who are doing amazing work — and who are able to help themselves and their families with the extra income that a passion project or side hustle can sometimes provide.”
And that is exactly the point. The government has passed a law that was supposed to help the contractors but ended up screwing them over.
Additionally, it seems that Vox had been considering this structural change for two years, according to SB Nation.
All in all, this nation should see this episode as a lesson.
Not only does the government have an uncanny ability to achieve the exact opposite results that were intended, but those horrific decisions will also still be buoyed by a side of the aisle that doesn’t care at all for practicality.
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