When California’s anti-freelancer law AB5 went into effect on January 1, 2020, hundreds of thousands of independent professionals lost their careers overnight across a vast swath of professions. Many freelancers have yet to regain work, especially in the freelance transcription profession, which is all but extinct in California due to AB5.

Although a handful of professions eventually received partial exemptions from the law (via AB2257, an emergency cleanup bill that loosened hiring restrictions for certain freelancers like writers, graphic designers, proofreaders, and interpreters, for example), the freelance transcription profession fell through the cracks, harming mostly women and seniors who dominate the field. 

“I can tell you that if you are a transcriptionist in California, you can no longer work here, period,” said freelancer Kathy Lang. “No transcription company will hire you if you live in California. I spent thousands of dollars to learn how to do this and it’s how I made a living for years until AB 5 happened. The industry is completely dead here.”

 Stay-at-home moms and family caregivers are especially harmed, like Jessica Tucker, of Loma Linda, CA who once thrived as an independent contractor making $60 an hour for her transcription services. She worked at home, on her own schedule, while pursuing a master’s degree and raising two children.

 “I’m unable to work a traditional job because I need to be at home with my kids,” said Jessica. “My gig was transcription, and I earned extra grocery, clothes, and spending money. I did this for over five years, happily reporting income to the IRS. AB5 took this away completely, and my family has been struggling to put food on the table ever since. This law directly targeted marginalized women like myself.”

For Melissa DeMuri, of Hesperia, Calif., freelance transcription allowed her to balance family responsibilities with earning an income until AB5 demolished her career permanently. 

 “I’m still not working in transcription,” said Melissa. “I worked from my home for five years while caring for my mother. She passed away at the end of January 2022, and now I’m wondering what to do so I can continue to pay my student loans. My husband is in law enforcement, and it’s essential for me to work from home to care for our son. I just don’t know what to do.”

Freelance transcriptionists generally obtain work directly from clients or via online platforms commonly referred to in the industry as the “marketplace.” They can work as much or as little as they want, and when they want, even if it’s at 3 a.m. in the morning. Assignments come from an array of sources including news organizations, bloggers, academia, government, webinars, Hollywood production companies, authors, law offices, doctors, and more. Assignments requiring more technical skills, such as medical and legal, pay more. 

“Companies typically pay by the audio minute,” explains legal transcriptionist Debbie Gosselin, a resident of Riverside County, CA. “The more skilled you are, the more money you will make. Transcriptionists can pick and choose which jobs they personally feel they can earn the most on, based on their experience with industry terminology, regional accents, and other factors. The customer benefits from having a transcriptionist skilled in their particular field.”

Because Debbie lives in a remote area, finding transcription work was a “Godsend” that allowed her to work from home on her own terms, saving both time and money that otherwise would have had to be spent on a long commute. But now that transcription companies no longer accept anyone who lives in California, all of the work is being done outside the state or in other countries. 

“By enacting AB5, they have actually made it harder to get a W-2 job in this field, which supposedly was the whole point of this law, to compel employment,” said Debbie. 

There is other evidence that AB5 destroyed transcription opportunities in the state. One of the largest online transcription platforms is Rev.com, based in San Francisco and Austin. According to Rev’s home page, the company contracts with people from 49 states and around the world, except for Californians. 

Coincidentally, the California Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which has recently been hosting extensive panel discussions about the impact of AB5 on marginalized communities, uses Rev.com for all of its transcription needs. Ironically, freelance transcriptionists from California are not the ones transcribing these hearings about how AB5 has affected women and minorities in California.

An unintended consequence of AB5 appears to be ageism. The freelance transcription profession is especially suited for seniors, so older transcritionists have been harshly affected. Teri Isveri, who runs a successful transcription company in Arizona, had to tell two of her 10-year associates that she could no longer use them once AB5 went into effect. One of them was in her 80s.

“This law is crushing so many good people,” said Teri. “This woman was a lifelong Californian, veteran and elderly person who, because of AB5, now no longer has the small income she made. It was horrible to have to break her heart by letting her go.”

A senior freelancer, Anne Cherchian experienced a similar fate. “I’m 74, and the only way that I can work is to work from home,” she said. “Whenever I try to apply to do online legal transcription as an independent contractor, I get the same answer back: ‘Unfortunately, due to AB 5, we’re not taking applications from California.’ My career has been taken away from me because of AB 5.”

With no one to advocate for them, freelance transcriptionists, particularly seniors, feel left out in the cold by Sacramento lawmakers. Their once-thriving self-employment opportunities have vanished. The possibility of finding equivalent W-2 employment is out of reach.

“I loved my career as an independent contractor,” said Mariann Geiser. “It allowed me to supplement my social security income, babysit my grandchildren, take time off when I was sick without losing my work and that I would never likely have to deal with a company layoff, that is until the State of California decided to take away my freedom to earn a living at my chosen career. Who the heck are these people who think they can dictate my choice of work and income? We need to elect people who respect the freedom of independent workers and all the freedoms that come with living in our great country.”

Check out IWF’s Chasing Work profiles to read my story and others. Also, check out additional AB5 personal stories from freelance transcriptionists and hundreds of other independent professionals, visit the AB5 stories archive compiled by members of the Facebook group Freelancers Against AB5: AB5-Personal-Stories