“Everybody is saying just get another job. Really? I don’t think so. Not caring for an 82 year old husband.”
Marguerite Kusuhara has worked as an entertainer since the early ‘80s. She’s done a wide variety of characters, dance events, and fortune-telling as well as body art and face painting. Kusuhara has worked in many different venues, from malls to private parties, cruises, and country clubs.
She began working as an entertainer at the request of her personal network. Kusuhara would get the odd phone call from people who knew she was a dancer and worked as an actress.
It was a perfect set up for her. “I enjoyed the work,” she said. “I had a good time. I could be a housewife, or have a day job, and do the other jobs on the weekends. It was great, it was wonderful. It was flexible. I decided to become an independent contractor because it was flexible…I could work as much or as little as I wanted.”
Over the years, different performance opportunities have developed organically. As Kusuhara says: “It’s like being able to be an actress without dealing with Hollywood.” For instance, “Someone saw a picture of me in a red dress and asked: ‘Do you want to be Mrs. Claus?’”
From there, her Mrs. Claus character was born–Mrs. Margie Claus, a unique Edwardian take on the classic role. Kusuhara describes: “For me, my experience has definitely been organic. Over the years, people would ask me to do various things and I’d say, ‘ok’.”
California’s attack on independent contractors, AB5, hurts thousands of independent contractors across the country, including Kusuhara. She works as an independent contractor for many different clients as well as sometimes filling in for or being referred by other entertainers for certain roles.
Kusuhara explains: “The companies that book us send us everywhere. It wouldn’t make sense for me to be an employee at the company because the way I look and my particular skills might not fit a specific role they’re looking for.”
She says that AB5 feels like a punishment. “These people say this is going to protect workers,” she said. “How is this going to protect part time people? They’re going to be put on W2s and they still won’t have medical.”
Despite the claimed motivation of protecting “workers rights,” Kusuhara says: “We’re not crying for benefits or claiming we’re being abused. We’re very happy. The gig economy is very important. Trying to make it disappear doesn’t make any sense.”
Like many others, the flexibility of independent contract work is incredibly important to Kusuhara. Her husband suffered a stroke last December and she managed to balance a busy work schedule with caring for her husband.
But faced with AB5, she says: “I know I can’t work a regular job because I am a caregiver. He’s legally blind and hard of hearing, had a stroke and even with all of that, I was able to balance work back in December.”
Kusuhara emphasizes that her job is more than just entertainment. “I go out in all kinds of situations to entertain people and keep people steady in hard times.” She’s done fundraisers for children’s hospitals, churches, and many other charity events.
After the 2018 wildfires in Thousand Oaks that covered between 8,000 and 10,000 acres of land, the community was devastated. People had lost their homes and children didn’t think they would have a Christmas. Kusuhara was brought in as Mrs. Claus and gave teddy bears to the kids, bought with her own money to help ease their suffering.
As she says: “[The lawmakers] should be ashamed of the way they have treated this sector of the population who is performing a service for their community…These are the duties I was performing for my community. How could they do that? Don’t they have any compassion? A lot of us are donating our time as well as making money so we can support our families as well as our communities.”
Kusuhara doesn’t know what to expect for the future. For now, she’s waiting to see whether or not AB5 will shut down her livelihood.
Do you have a story about how AB5 or similar independent contracting laws have affected your ability to work? Share your story here.