As we all scramble to understand how AB-5 works and what it will mean to our own livelihood, it is important to understand the hidden agenda behind the law. It is a well-planned and heavily financed campaign to drive people back to labor unions. The AFL-CIO and individual labor unions like the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) all want “a sea change” in union participation across the board. While this may be the best option for janitors, construction workers, taxi drivers, etc., it is NOT the best option for independent music professionals. The unions have deep pockets, a deep bench, and they feel that if some nonunion musicians, contractors, orchestras, or opera companies go out of business because of AB-5, that is acceptable collateral damage to them. It strengthens the unions’ stance in the long run.
Music professionals successfully figured out long ago how to make a great living as Independent Contractors. They set their own schedules, determined their own rates, paid taxes, bought their own health insurance, etc. This business model works for us! We were never part of the disenfranchised, misclassified worker pool. If we didn’t like the pay scale for a particular project, we simply turned it down and moved on to the next project. No harm, no foul. In light of the January 29, 2020 article in the LA Times, “How AB5 has instilled fear and confusion in California’s arts community“, it is important to point out that independent music professionals have negotiated pay rates that far exceed the minimum wage, and often exceed AFM’s rates. We worked hard for this!
Supporters of AB5 suggest that misclassified workers account for billions of dollars of unpaid tax revenue and place an unacceptable drain on social services such as healthcare (Lorena Gonzalez mentioned this in her first interview with KUSI.). In the case of music professionals, this is simply not true. We carry our own health insurance and pay self-employment taxes in lieu of payroll taxes. Self-employment taxes combine the employee and employer portions of the Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes that employers withhold from their employees’ pay.
The bottom line is AB-5 does not work for music professionals. Further, compliance with a law that does not fit the industry is ludicrous. An exemption or repeal is not likely to happen quickly as both solutions will need to go through the legislative process and calendar. We need to commit to staying the course. We urge you to continue to write and call your state legislators! They keep track of the number of letters and calls in order to gauge the importance/impact of an issue, so be sure to call them daily!