As a 1994 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism who spent countless hours writing and editing articles for the Columbia Missourian, I was deeply disheartened to read Jake Hummel’s letter to the editor in its pages, encouraging passage of the PRO Act.
Mr. Hummel’s letter conveniently omitted the fact that the PRO Act contains language called the ABC Test, written back in the 1930s, that is on a trajectory toward outlawing entire categories of modern work — including the freelance writing and editing work that I was trained to do at the Columbia Missourian.
This ABC Test states, among other things, that no worker can be in the same line of business as the company hiring her, unless that company makes her an employee. People like Mr. Hummel at the AFL-CIO would love to see the modern workforce transformed this way because under current federal law, it is illegal to unionize independent contractors. The number of union members whose dues pay for salaries like his is at an all-time low, so he hopes to force independent contractors to become union-ready employees. He’s trying to protect his own job while stripping millions of Americans like me of our chosen careers.
Contrary to the PRO Act’s marketing spin, the ABC Test in it doesn’t actually help to build unions. It doesn’t even create jobs. Instead, it outlaws work for tens of millions of America’s independent contractors. We just saw it happen in California after that state passed ABC Test legislation (more on that in a minute). This ABC Test eliminates people like me from the workforce, even though most of us want nothing to do with traditional jobs. Up to 85% of us, in studies going back to 2015, say we want to remain independent contractors.
The part of the ABC Test about being in the same line of work means that unless they are employees, musicians can no longer perform for pay at music venues like The Blue Note. Real estate appraisers can no longer evaluate properties for real estate companies. Courtroom translators can no longer help non-English-speaking defendants understand what is happening in the courts. Respiratory therapists can no longer pick up per-diem shifts at hospitals experiencing COVID-19 surges.
And for all of the J-School students working right now on the Columbia Missourian, their minds filled with the same dreams of bylines that led me to the campus almost three decades ago, it means they would never be able to sell a freelance article to a newspaper, magazine, website or any other type of publisher after they graduate from college.
Anybody picking up extra cash to pay for tuition, as I did, by stringing for the Columbia Daily Tribune would be out of luck. The entire career I have since enjoyed, writing and editing freelance articles for publications as wide-ranging as Yachting magazine and The Washington Post, will no longer be a legal option if this ABC Test becomes federal law.
President Joe Biden ran on a promise of making this ABC Test the basis for all federal labor, employment and tax law. The PRO Act, which focuses on labor law, is step one in that plan. When California tested out this plan beginning Jan. 1, 2020, by putting the ABC Test into the law there, freelance writers — who make up the majority of America’s writers — were among those who lost their work overnight. By May, lawmakers were already advancing a cleanup bill to fully exempt them and other professionals from California’s ABC Test law. But even the cleanup bill wasn’t enough to stop the economic bleeding because so many types of professionals were by then drowning in the regulatory mess. All of which is why, on Election Day in November, California voters passed a ballot measure that was widely seen as a public referendum on the subject. They gutted the ABC Test law by a 59-41% margin.
It’s time that all of us hold people like Mr. Hummel and his colleagues at the AFL-CIO — which wrote the California law and are now pushing the federal version — accountable for the immoral war that they are waging against hard-working people like me and against every Mizzou J-School student who hopes someday to write and sell an article to a newspaper or magazine as a freelancer. Congress must stop this ABC Test from metastasizing like a cancer beyond California and into other parts of the country. Lawmakers must remove the ABC Test from the PRO Act and all other federal legislation.
Our representatives are not elected to support the foolish desires of special interest bosses like Mr. Hummel. Our elected officials are supposed to represent and protect us all.
Or don’t they teach that at college anymore?
Kim Kavin is a co-founder of the nonpartisan, ad hoc coalition Fight For Freelancers USA and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, which is suing the State of California over its ABC Test law. She lives in New Jersey.