“We feel very targeted and victimized [by AB5].”

Lisa Rothstein has long worked in advertising. She has held marketing roles and been a creative director at agencies whose clients were big companies like IBM and Hanes. 

After living in Europe for a number of years, Rothstein returned to the states in 2005. She had been out of a traditional job and filled the gaps with independent contracting work. By the time Rothstein came back to the U.S., she was around 40 years old and, as she explained, “That’s basically a dinosaur in advertising.” 

Rothstein began to work as a freelancer for big companies as well as for other contractors who needed her expertise. She says she fell naturally into contracting: “I didn’t make a conscious decision to become a freelancer.”

Living on the West coast, Rothstein described watching everyone rush off to work in the morning. She’d think to herself: “This is great. I get to work where I want, when I want. Making the same amount of money or more.”

While Rothstein had enjoyed working in an agency environment when she was younger, she just didn’t see herself going back into a traditional office environment. As an independent contractor, she loves the freedom, flexibility, and variety of work. She works as a copywriter, advisor, cartoonist, and more. Rothstein says: “Every project is different, every client is different.”

Rothstein was enjoying her flexible career until Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), the California law which has forced many independent contractors to be reclassified as employees, started to slash her business.

While most of what she does can be categorized as marketing, an exempt profession, Rothstein has to be careful to protect herself and her clients. She can’t freelance for advertising agencies anymore or work on specific projects for the clients of her clients. Rothstein says: “That’s a big part of my business that’s gone away.”

People don’t know that what they’re asking for would be in violation of AB5, so Rothstein explains the limitations to them: “I feel like it’s kinda my duty to go around and educate people.”

Unfortunately, her compliance with this law comes at a significant cost. She explained, “I’ve turned down thousands of dollars of work because I don’t want to get people in trouble.”

For years, Rothstein wanted nothing to do with politics. Rothstein comes from a family of Democrats and is herself an independent. Her mom still works for the New York Department of Education and is an active member of the teachers union. Rothstein grew up attending marches along with her.

But with AB5, she said politics have gotten personal: “It never occurred to me that people in Sacramento were plotting to make my livelihood illegal. I don’t have any animosity against these people, I just want them to leave me alone.”

“It’s not your [lawmakers’] choice what is a good job or what isn’t a good job.” 

She says even more broadly of most contractors: “We don’t have a problem with people being in unions. We have a problem with people in unions making it hard for us to do our own work.”

And now that Proposition 22 (Prop 22), a ballot measure that allows Uber and Lyft drivers to remain independent contractors, has passed, Rothstein says that AB5 is even less defensible. She’s not interested in any of the employment benefits that supporters of AB5 think she needs or wants: “They don’t do me any good even if I need them. I certainly don’t want to exchange my freedom for them.”

Rothstein would like to hire a virtual assistant to help with occasional administrative work but can’t. She says: “It hurts me both ways. It’s hard to be hired and it’s hard to hire anybody.”

Rothstein explained, “The reason it doesn’t work for people like me is it hampers our ability to prospect and collaborate with other people to make something…. In today’s agile world, it’s crazy to think we’d have to be each other’s employee or work through some referral agency.”

While she would much prefer to hire someone in the U.S., she doesn’t want any trouble with AB5 and is looking overseas.

Independent contractors and other opponents of AB5 are certainly encouraged by the passage of Prop 22, but it’s only the first step in a long journey to regaining the freedom and flexibility that AB5 robbed them of.

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