Laws of the Land

At Natividad, Assembly Bill 5 may lead to the end of the hospital’s well-regarded midwife program. In a statement, hospital CEO Gary Gray says staffers are trying to understand what impact the bill will have on advanced practice clinicians, including midwives.

The idiom is “the law of unintended consequences,” but sometimes it’s the law itself that creates the unintended consequences.

Consider Assembly Bill 5, authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzales, D-San Diego. It was meant to protect gig economy workers, many of whom are offered few of the things granted to full-time employees, things like sick leave, guaranteed minimum wage, paid family leave and unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits. It limits an employer’s ability to classify a worker as an independent contractor – a classification that almost always favors the employer – and instead, when it took effect on Jan. 1, 2020, employers had to classify most contractors and freelancers as employees, eligible for benefits and protections.

As the law was making its way through the Assembly, it faced fierce opposition from the usual suspects who oppose most anything that will impact employers to the favor of workers: state Republicans and the California Chamber of Commerce, and giants of the gig economy, specifically Uber and Lyft. (Google AB 5, and the first hit you’ll get is an ad from an organization called “Protect App-Based Drivers and Services,” a coalition of on-demand drivers and service providers, with major funding from Uber, Lyft and food-delivery service DoorDash.) Vox Media cut hundreds of freelance jobs in December – freelance writers will only be able to submit 35 freelance pieces per year under AB 5.

Then there’s the lauded midwifery program at Natividad in Salinas; Natividad was the first hospital in the county to offer midwifery services before, during and after birth.

In the waning days of December, a doula and birth educator named Cori Gentry sent out an email titled “Action Alert: AB 5 Eliminates Monterey Co. Hospital Nurse-Midwifery Care.” As Gentry explains it, Natividad, which has two nurse-midwife positions operating under contract, would have to convert those contractor positions to employees. The decision to create those two contract positions was “momentous,” she says, because nurse-midwives lead to better outcomes for mothers and babies.

Only one of the contract midwife positions had been filled, and the hospital was in the process of filling the second position. According to Gentry, that’s been put on hold and the midwife currently under contract has told her the position won’t be filled after Jan. 1.

“It was a week of goodbyes. HR is saying, ‘We’ll work on a position,’ but we’re looking at a six-to-12 month process and patients want access to midwives now,” Gentry says. “They will have no access to midwives in Monterey County.” While there is a freestanding birth center with a team of midwives, she adds, they don’t accept Medi-Cal.

Gentry’s ask: Contact Natividad CEO Dr. Gary Gray and every member of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and ask that Natividad fill the midwife positions as quickly as possible.

Gray, in a written statement provided by a hospital media representative, states: “We are working closely with legal advisers to understand and evaluate how California Assembly Bill 5 will be implemented and what impact it will have on advanced practice clinicians, including midwives. Natividad is committed to providing the best care and supporting health care options for all our patients.”

Asked a follow-up question – what happens to the midwife program come Jan. 1 – and the media representative writes, “Natividad is working to fully understand the impact. The statement is what we can provide, at this moment.”

For outlets like the Weekly, where an in-house editorial team is greatly aided by an army of freelancers, AB 5 probably won’t have the impact that was initially feared. There’s a business-to-business exception in the law – sole proprietors have to meet 12 criteria to prove they operate as their own business entity – which means freelancers will have to register as businesses in order to contribute more than the 35 pieces of work spelled out in the law.

Just days before AB 5 took effect, Gonzales took to Twitter, stating she anticipates “a lot of false accusations by gig companies” and recommending people check out a fact sheet compiled by the California Labor Federation. She received a flood of comments, many asking for exemptions for freelance writers and editors, consultants and musicians.

Comedian Joe Dungan responded to her that AB 5 “is going to create a lot of unemployed writers, musicians, et. al. And they’ll still be able to vote… and donate to whoever runs against you, until AB 5 makes them go broke, that is.”

While AB 5 may be the most talked-about law that took effect in California on Jan. 1, it’s by no means the only one. California’s minimum-wage workers will see their pay go up, as SB 3 has minimum wage rising to $12 an hour for employees at companies with 25 or less employees, and up to $13 an hour for workers at companies with more than 25 employees. Also in the workplace: your hairstyle is now protected, as California’s SB 188 bans discrimination based on texture and style; companies must provide appropriate, private space for lactating mothers to pump breastmilk; and thanks to AB 51, workers no longer have to enter into mandatory arbitration with an employer – the law bans such agreements with employees. Speaking of parenting while employed, paid family leave for workers who qualify for the benefit will increase from six weeks to eight weeks starting in July.

As 2019 came to a close, numerous cities in Monterey County scrambled to enact temporary protections for renters; those ordinances, enacted by Salinas, Monterey, Seaside and Marina, among others, meant that landlords couldn’t move to evict renters, nor could they raise rents. Those ordinances were meant as a stop-gap measure until AB 1482 took effect. The law limits rent increases to 5 percent each year, plus inflation, and limits increases to 10 percent. It doesn’t apply to housing built in the past 15 years.

Housing advocate Matt Huerta, who works on housing policy for the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, says SB 1482 is “a solid step forward” in giving renters some relief from no-cause evictions and price gouging.

“More resources are needed to ensure tenants know their rights and have access to legal assistance when needed,” he says.

Looking to avoid cigarette smoke while you’re out in nature? SB 8 bans smoking and vaping at beaches and state parks, and also bans disposal of cigars and cigarettes at the same locations. Looking to go to a circus? You won’t see lions or tigers or bears anymore. SB 313, the Circus Cruelty Prevention Act, bans any animals other than domesticated cats, dogs or horses in circuses in the state.

For a complete list of all the laws that will take effect in California this year, visit mcweekly.com/news

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