“The small mom-and-pop studios aren’t going to open their doors again.”

Jennifer O’Connell is a jack of all trades. The California-based 54-year-old is a writer, yoga instructor, and career-reinvention coach. O’Connell spent her formative years in Chicago, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in fiction writing and commercial art.

With her heart set on screenwriting, the then 22-year-old traveled to sunny California to obtain her master’s degree. She marketed herself as a writer for about 20 years. Then, when the recession hit in 2008, O’Connell realized she had a “special set of skills” to help people who lost their jobs “reinvent themselves”. Soon after, the entrepreneur was dabbling in writing, coaching, and another of her passions: yoga. Thus her brand and website, “As The Girl Turns” was formed.

Photos from CareerCampSCV 2011 in Santa Clarita, CA

In between writing for outlets like The Washington Times and teaching yoga classes, in 2016, she received her advanced yoga certification. She began certifying yoga studios globally online. 

“It didn’t matter what time I did work because I was talking to schools across the world,” she said in an interview with IWF. “That allowed me flexibility during my day to go teach my regular [yoga] classes for my part-time W-2 job and then come back and maybe work on an article, do interviews, or work on yoga certifications.” Most of O’Connell’s work was completed with 1099 forms. 

But her world turned upside down when California passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), commonly referred to as the “gig worker bill”. 

O’Connell describes it as “a horribly written law”.

“There are a lot of things about the law that don’t work,” she said. “The odds are stacked against the majority of creative people like writers and artists whose work involves collaboration with other artists.”

Suddenly, O’Connell’s 1099 work was slashed. That used to make up about three quarters of her income. 

“Take my yoga work, I do lectures on anatomy or I help with a portion of training. A mom-and-pop studio can’t hire me and put me on payroll for a one or two hour lecture that I do once per month. That’s wiped out so much work. A lot of studios have shut their doors because of AB5 and COVID-19.”

A Threat to Independent Contractors

California’s AB5 law passed in 2019. Sponsored by assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-80), the bill claims to ensure that independent contractors are classified as employees with “the basic rights and protections they deserve under the law, including a minimum wage, workers’ compensation if they are injured on the job, unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, and paid family leave”.  It’s been heralded as a protection for independent contractors, but many of them disagree. They say AB5 has ripped the state apart and is destroying its economy. 

Some occupations like vocalists, freelance writers, lawyers, photographers, and others are exempt from the law, provided they meet certain requirements.  Others like court interpreters, social workers, American Sign Language interpreters, court reporters, actors, and many more are non-exempt.  This process has left many industries, particularly those without political connections, scrambling to try to receive exemptions. 

O’Connell calls the exemptions “garbage.” 

“They don’t want people having vocational and economic freedom,” she said. “They want you chained to the union. They want to make everyone a class of workers tied to the system.”

Several other states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Arizona are considering similar legislation. On the federal level, the PRO Act (AB5 on steroids as O’Connell describes it) is supported by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“They don’t care about their constituents,” O’Connell said. “They care about their positions and union dollars. Labor runs things in the state of California.”

O’Connell says it’s a misperception that AB5 is workable. The exemptions don’t help and a full repeal is the only solution.

“There’s nothing fixable about it and the more they try to fix it, the worse it gets,” she said. “It was built on the premise to destroy the independent contractor model. It’s intentional. They want to kill innovation. They want to fit everyone in their boxes.”

A Hope for Change

To say that O’Connell’s career has been affected is an understatement. It’s been drastically altered. Take her work in yoga, for example. 

“There are only 3 corporate entities that are in that line of work,” she explains. Core Power (which she works for part-time with a W2), Yoga Works (which is closing many of its locations), and Equinox. 

“They are moving training online and that affects people like me who would go around and do lectures,” she said. “The small mom-and-pop studios aren’t going to open their doors again.”

Many workers have moved out of California to escape AB5’s harmful effects. O’Connell admits that she’s thought about it, but the idea isn’t an option.

“My husband and I talked about it, but he’s lived here all of his life. It pisses me off that you are doing something that you want to drive me out of the state. Part of me gets my hackles up and says, ‘no you won’t’. This is not right. For right now, we’re standing and fighting.” 

She’s hopeful for change this November at the ballot box. 

“Hopefully, the temperature of the electorate is very much tired of this kind of stuff,” O’Connell said. “If we stay loud and vocal, it could very well turn the presidential election or at least influence it. In terms of our local elections, we are going to do our best to get Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) back in for a full-term.”

She said the only way lawmakers will listen is for constituents to stop voting for them.

“People are waking up.”

Do you have a story about how AB5 or similar independent contracting laws have affected your ability to work? Share your story here.