New Labor Law Reclassifies California's Strippers As Employees

New Labor Law Reclassifies California's Strippers As Employees

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), a sweeping piece of legislation that rewrites the state’s employment law to address the status of independent contractors, including dancers at strip clubs.

The bill passed the legislature last week and was sold to voters as a possible answer to 21st-Century issues like the “gig economy,” corporate use (and abuse) of “perma-lancers” and ways in which employers get around labor protections by deceitfully characterizing some workers’ status.

Newsom stated in a signing message that AB 5 “will help reduce worker misclassification — workers being wrongly classified as ‘independent contractors’ rather than employees — which erodes basic worker protections like the minimum wage, paid sick days and health insurance benefits.”

The state will consider a person to be an employee of a business rather than a freelancer or independent contractor, unless the employer can prove that the worker’s job is not part of a company’s core business, that the bosses do not direct the way the work is done or that the worker has established an independent business of their own.

Strippers, exotic dancers and the nightclubs where they perform have often been mentioned as being likely to be affected by AB 5 in mainstream stories about the legislation while it was being debated by the legislature in Sacramento.

The industries most affected by the new rules, however, are app-based startups and tech companies, leading some to nickname AB 5 “the Uber driver (or Postmates driver) protection law.” Rideshare services and app-based delivery services will have to reconfigure their business models to account for their new relationship with drivers and similar “gig economy” workers.

Several jobs and industries are exempted from the stricter AB 5 rules, including medical practices, accountants, architects, realtors and others. Other jobs and industries, such as barbers and cosmetologists, are partially exempted.

Back in February, after the California Supreme Court "Dynamex" ruling paved the way for AB 5, high-profile adult entertainer Stormy Daniels penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times arguing against classifying strippers as employees.

Strippers, wrote Daniels, “Get naked and dance for our customers. It’s a sensitive profession. As independent contractors, we can perform when, where, how and for whom we want. If we are classified as employees, club managers would be empowered to dictate those conditions. Employers might require us to give free nude performances for customers we don’t feel comfortable with."

For Daniels, these are “highly personal decisions and the power to make them should be exclusively in the hands of dancers.”

Daniels concluded by pleading for an exemption for nightclubs to allow dancers to continue freelancing. “There have undoubtedly been cases in which companies of all types have abused independent contractors,” she wrote. “But not all independent contractors are exploited and not all wish to be employees. We need legislation that will allow workers to continue working as independent contractors if they choose.”

But in late August, the Los Angeles Times characterized the upcoming law in more positive terms by including Daniels’ colleagues among the workers that would benefit from the new rules.

“Janitors cleaning downtown office buildings, truckers loading goods at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, construction workers building new homes, manicurists, medical technicians, nightclub strippers and even software coders would be among scores of occupations offered protection against long-documented workplace abuses," reported the Times.

A report on local public radio KQED mentioned that AB 5 “homes in on many of the industries targeted by labor,” and listed “workers; big-rig, Amazon and other truck drivers,” “low-wage services ranging from janitors to home health aides,” “unlicensed nail technicians, language interpreters and musicians.”

“Strippers and even rabbis could be impacted,” the KQED report concluded

According to the Los Angeles paper, AB 5 would be “landmark legislation” that could “set a precedent in a national battle to improve pay and benefits for low- and middle-wage workers.”

Newly signed by Governor Newsom into law, AB 5 takes effect January 1, 2020.

At least one lawyer group website, the National Injury Help, is already advertising for strippers to contact them regarding their new rights and the option to sue former or current employers.

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