Mixed Feelings

I’ve got mixed feelings.

That’s a good thing, actually. There are very few unmixed blessings or curses. So I tend to get suspicious when I don’t have mixed feelings about something.

But I digress.

I’m speaking here of AB5, California’s new law defining the difference between contractors and employees.

In case you’ve missed the debates, the law establishes a three-part test*: if a person performs tasks under control of a company, the work is a core part of the company’s business, and the person doesn’t have an independent business in the same field, they’re considered an employee.

* Do you know what field has a different, critical three-part test? Well, quite a few, actually, but I was thinking specifically of the three-part Miller test that determines whether something is obscene. I have to wonder if porn actors will be affected by AB5; as I understand it, they tend to form long-term associations with particular film studios and they get paid by the film or scene, which would seem to this non-lawyer to potentially put them under the AB5 umbrella. If so, by the Law of Threes, it seems like there ought to be a third three-part test that defines their field.

Not as straightforward as it looks at first glance, but clearer than many laws, so, good. There are, of course, some fields that are exempted, mostly in areas where workers tend to be well-paid. Since, in many ways, AB5 is designed as an adjunct to minimum-wage laws, those sort of carve-outs make sense.

Naturally, the Ubers and Lyfts are screaming with rage. Their entire business model is based around large numbers of cheap contractors.

Workers in some non-exempt fields aren’t happy either. Translators, for example, by and large want to remain contractors. There are others. The main argument seems to be flexibility: the ability to work when and as much as they want, and the freedom to refuse specific jobs. Which is reasonable, and I see no reason why the law couldn’t be amended to include more exemptions as consensus emerges. Expect the issue to show up on the agendas at many professional associations’ meetings over the next few years.

Frankly, I’m offended by the approach Uber is taking in fighting AB5. They’re flat-out trying to claim that their business has nothing to do with providing rides. It’s insulting that they think that’s a winning strategy. And their other attack on the law boils down to “It’ll put us out of business. You can’t do that!”

IMNSHO, no business has a right to exist. Times change, people’s needs change, conditions change. Remember “Too big to fail”? How’d that work out? Mixed results, really. But really, if a business had a right to exist, we’d see a lot fewer cars today, because of the laws created to prop up the horse-and-cart industry.

So right now I feel a certain amount of schadenfreude over the ride-sharing industry in general and Uber in particular.

But. Mixed feelings, remember?

We’re also hearing from newspapers who say that AB5 will put them out of business. Why? Because the added costs for delivery carriers will outstrip their advertising revenue. Which is a legitimate concern, I suppose, and again, no business has the right to exist. But I like newspapers a heck of a lot more than I like the Ubers of the world.

Newspapers won a one-year exemption to explore alternatives to their current delivery system.

I’m old enough to remember when delivering newspapers was a viable first job for a teenager with a bike. It’s not anymore. Not in suburban areas like mine, anyway. Now delivery is done by an adult with a car, who drives around flinging papers out of the window. (To be fair, despite my ongoing battles with our carrier–yesterday, when it was raining, our paper was held together with a rubber band; today, in glorious sunlight, the paper in a plastic bag–I have to admit their accuracy is higher than the typical Amazon delivery person’s.)

My point, however, is that at least around here, delivery isn’t done by someone working for the Chron–neither employee nor contractor. They’re employed by an independent company specializing in newspaper delivery. That third-party is the one who needs to worry about whether carriers are employees or contractors. It may affect the rate they charge the Chron and other papers for their services, but to some extent the papers are shielded from employee costs by that separation.

Mixed feelings.

Stay tuned to see how AB5 works out.

Feeling Lucky?

It’s raining here. I say this, not to evoke sympathy–after all, I’m inside, warm and dry–but to set the stage.

Rain is coming down, and Casey is under-caffeinated. A messy combination that usually leaves me staring out of the window at the rain instead of doing what I should, i.e. writing a blog post.

There’s a soggy crow on the nearest street light, an even soggier deer halfway up the hill across the road, and what looks like the paper wrapper from a fast food burger disappearing around the corner.

This is all fascinating when I need to make another mug of tea.

Suddenly, my idyll is interrupted. An unmarked white van pulls up across the street. No more than three seconds pass before the driver, who’s wearing a dark-colored hoodie with the hood up, leaps out and takes a single step toward the house.

He hurls something over the front fence, frisbee-style. Before the object touches down, the driver is back in his van and halfway down the street, chasing the hamburger wrapper.

Folks, earlier this week four people were shot less than a block away from here. The police believe they were targeted, but say they have no suspects and no motive.

So I did what any sensible person would do: I got the hell away from the window.

I waited a couple of minutes, and when nothing had gone boom, I figured it wasn’t a bomb and went to investigate.

Turned out to be small padded envelope decorated with the Amazon logo. Considerately, it had been wrapped in a large plastic bag to protect it from the rain. I’m fairly sure it isn’t explosive.

I’m not about to open it. Not because I think I might be wrong about its explosive properties, but because it’s addressed to Maggie. But it’s sitting on the dining room table. Who knows what it might do half an hour from now?

I hadn’t realized I was this nervous.

But, sleepy paranoia aside, the situation is ridiculous, and not in a humorous way. In today’s restive–I might even say “hair-triggered”–environment, how many people would have taken a shot at the driver? “I was scared! It could have been a bomb!”

How long will it be before someone does disguise an explosive device in an Amazon box?

Gig economy drivers are even less visible than salaried, uniformed drivers in trucks bearing corporate logos.

It’s a hell of a murder method. You don’t need to shell out for anything but a box: no uniform, no rented truck. And, unlike a mail bomb, you’ve got complete control over when it gets delivered.

Like Herding Cats is going out to the beta readers nowish. Maybe I should take advantage of my time away from it to write something cheerful. (Which is not to say LHC is a depressing book, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns either.)

But I can’t believe this hasn’t happened yet.

Feeling lucky?