SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — South Orange Village President Sheena Collum has issued a public letter to State Senate President Steve Sweeney in response to hearing from local freelance workers how the Assembly Bill 5936 and Senate Bill 4204 will affect their livelihoods.

The bill, which is meant to curb abuses against freelance workers such as Uber drivers, has been noted as too far-reaching; the fear is that businesses will pull freelance business out of New Jersey and the economic impact "can result in hundreds of millions of lost wages in unintended consequences to legitimate independent contractors," Collum's letter reads.

“I was first made aware of this issue when a local photographer, Joy Yagid, shared an opinion piece on how this would hurt her small business,” Collum said in an email exchange with TAPinto SOMA. “I reviewed the bills...and listened to the hearing conducted by the Senate Labor Committee which spanned several hours.” She then “added this item to our board agenda because I wanted to share what I had learned with my colleagues and seek their support with a formal resolution,” Collum said, but in the end wanting to get the word out to state legislators quickly meant a choice for a public letter instead of a resolution.

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During the public comments portion of the Dec. 9 Village Trustees meeting residents Michelle Hollow and Bradley Madsen spoke with the trustees about the bill.

“Having Michelle Hollow and Bradley Madsen in attendance was very helpful because no one on our governing body makes a living in a gig economy. Hearing their first hand accounts put a face to this bill and certainly energized me in getting our letter of opposition out the next day. Given the timing, we didn’t have the time to adopt a formal resolution,” Collum wrote.

Michelle Hollow explained, “I’ve been freelancing for close to 30 years and I love what I do.” As a journalist, she said, “my flexibility is priceless to me.” She has a child with special needs and her flexible schedule allows her to be there for her child when needed during the day. “This bill will hurt a lot of people with disabilities,” she said, as well as single parents.

“It’s a very confusing bill,” Hollow said. She directed the those looking for further information to fightforfreelancers.com. “The problem with the bill is that if a company hires an outside person to do the same thing the company does, as in the case of a newspaper and freelance writer, or a band hiring a freelance singer,” she said, the company would be compelled to hire that person or face stiff fines for flouting the law.

Madsen, also a South Orange resident, is a freelance musician. “I’m the original gig economy worker,” he said, referring to the origin of the term ‘gig’ coming from what musicians being hired for an event. “I’ve worked for competing bands on the same day, sometimes at the same festival,” he offered. It would be cost prohibitive for all the bands to make each musician a W-2 employee.

The emailed letter follows:

December 10, 2019

Dear Senator Sweeney:

On behalf of the Township of South Orange Village Board of Trustees, I urge you to withdraw S-4204 for consideration until a time when language can be properly integrated to ensure that the livelihood of our state’s legitimate independent contractors is not jeopardized.

As a governing body representing a very progressive community, it is seldom we find ourselves at odds with legislation introduced and supported by Senate and Assembly Democrats. I say this because we wholeheartedly support the goals of the legislation—specifically, proper protections for workers—and believe lawmakers are justified and morally compelled to act given the findings presented in Governor Murphy’s Task Force on Employee Misclassification (July 2019). However, we oppose the language of the bill as introduced (and amended) and most recently discussed during the Senate Labor Committee hearing on December 5, 2019.

We respectfully, and with a sense of urgency, ask that the three prongs of the ABC test be amended and/or reimagined completely to reflect the new “gig economy,” comprised of successful entrepreneurs, that presents many valuable ways in which these workers—by choice—have created opportunities for themselves to earn a living on terms that work best for them and their families. The testimonies provided by these individuals, whom this bill will impact adversely, should provide sufficient evidence that more modifications are necessary.

In my experience, any bill that needs to carve out “exceptions” is a result of confusing language that can’t be universally applied to everyone in a concise manner. Moreover, while likely not intended, it also gives the appearance that certain professions, organizations, or lobbying entities had special access in the drafting of the bill.

Though the legislation has been described as a “pro-worker” bill, our objections to it do not make us “anti-worker” but rather, reflect our desire to ensure that all workers receive thoughtful and responsive consideration before passage. While New Jersey may have lost millions of dollars as a result of underreported wages, adoption of this bill in its current form can result in hundreds of millions of lost wages in unintended consequences to legitimate independent contractors. As evidenced in the hearings and echoed by the Chamber of Commerce, small businesses and startups will be disproportionately impacted, as they often rely on the gig economy to compete with larger corporations.

Our sentiments have been shared with our District 27 Representatives and I am grateful that Senator Codey, Assemblyman McKeon and Assemblywoman Jasey have heard and share our concerns. A legislative initiative can only be enhanced and improved upon when leaders at all levels of government listen and collaborate with stakeholders.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Sheena Collum Village President

cc: Governor Phil Murphy
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin
Assemblyman Joseph Egan, Primary Sponsor A5936 Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, Primary Sponsor A5936 Senator Richard Codey
Assemblyman John McKeon
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey
South Orange Board of Trustees
New Jersey State League of Municipalities