More changes possible in NJ fight over independent contractor bill
TRENTON — More changes could be coming to legislation that seeks to address the problems caused when employers misclassify workers as independent contractors but has caused a firestorm from people in various industries saying their careers would be threatened.
At the conclusion of a four-hour hearing last week in which the Senate Labor Committee advanced a revamped version of the bill, chairman Sen. Fred Madden said Senate President Steve Sweeney had told him he’d be willing to consider additional changes – though Sweeney says the current bill now just codifies existing rules.
“It does nothing new or different than the current regulations. It’s not the same as the California law that you keep hearing about,” said Sweeney, who said it is important to codify the regulations so they cannot be changed by a future administration.
Some independent contractors say that’s not the case. Freelance writers such as Kim Kavin, of Long Valley, worry that one change could make them employees if they visit an editor’s office for a meeting and want an exemption written into the bill for copyrightable works.
“We are already being blacklisted on the threat of this legislation passing,” Kavin said.
A transcription service called Rev.com that includes around 6,000 freelancers from New Jersey says it will end plans to drop all of them, due to the changes made to a bill. General counsel Alan Schoenbaum said the revised bill isn’t perfect but is better than it was – and far better than a California law to which it is often compared.
“California made a mess, in our view,” Schoenbaum said. “And we just want to be involved in the process so that New Jersey can lead.”
Despite the amendments to the bill, Rev still has a pause on accepting new freelance transcribers – the company calls them Revvers – from New Jersey. Madden has pressed Schoenbaum to lift that restriction immediately, based on the amendments, and he said the company would. As of Sunday night, it hadn’t.
It wasn’t just freelancers, as by some estimates close to one in 10 workers in the United States could be considered independent contractors, depending how the rules are interpreted, applied or expanded.
The New Jersey State Bar Association says a language change threatens small law firms. Wedding photographers and musicians and others say it could cripple their businesses. Even if it didn’t make changes beyond the current rules, some argued, simply opening up the issue to new rulemaking by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development could introduce changes to settled case law.
State Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, said the testimony from both proponents and opponents of the bill sounds convincing.
“I do have to say probably in 20 years of being in the Legislature, I find this bill the most confusing,” Greenstein said.
The bill could even be the death knell for financially struggling newspapers. Richard Vezza, editor and publisher of The Star-Ledger, said that unless the bill is changed, there will be no way to keep treating newspaper carriers as outside contractors.
Vezza said the parent company of the Ledger and other newspapers in the state, Advance Publications, has 598 employees in New Jersey – and 1,026 carriers who are outside contractors.
“I don’t know if the business could be viable if we were forced to hire a thousand more employees,” Vezza said. “That would have a severe impact. The owners would have some serious decisions to make about the business.”