Dynamex Law: Imperils Black Newspapers
Dynamex Law will gut Black newspapers in California By REGINA BROWN WILSON This is a direct appeal to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, and our entire state legislature on behalf of the more than
Dynamex Law will gut Black newspapers in California
By REGINA BROWN WILSON
This is a direct appeal to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, and our entire state legislature on behalf of the more than 20 African American-owned newspapers that operate in cities and towns across California.
As the leaders we’ve elected to represent and protect the interests of all Californians, we are asking each of you to search your hearts, look beyond blind spots, step in, and do the one thing that will prevent Assembly Bill 5 from putting the Black press in California out of business by reclassifying contract couriers that deliver our newspapers as employees.
The bill Gonzalez is proposing intends to bring definition to the California Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision and defend the rights of working Californians.
But in our push to create a more equitable California for all, we must not lose sight of the specific needs and priorities of our most vulnerable communities. Our best intentions may sometimes harm some Californians while uplifting others. We must always be as cautious and fair as we are forceful and deliberate in approaching our most challenging problems.
I submit that AB 5 should be helping to narrow the wealth gap that exists in the richest state of the nation? The disparity between the rich and nearly 20 million people in California living below the poverty line or who struggle to remain above it — is growing. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, for example, the average household wealth for U.S. born Whites was $355,000 in 2014. For U.S. born Black families that same year the figure was only $4,000, according to the California Budget and Policy Center.
For African American newspaper owners surviving in an industry the Internet has almost put on life support, Assembly Bill 5 would do the exact opposite of what Gonzalez wants to achieve. She might as well just pull the plug on our businesses.
Although our publications reach nearly 2 million Californians of all races, most of our operations are family-owned businesses. We are small shops with multi-tasking staff who struggle to attract advertising, grind to meet deadlines, and tighten belts to remain profitable. None of our papers can afford to offer full-time jobs with benefits to the part-time delivery people who work, on average, four hours on the days our newspapers are published. Many of our papers are weeklies.
My dad, Hardy Brown, former publisher of Black Voice News in Riverside, Calif., remembers a time when he had to gather the news stories, type them, take the copy to the printer, then deliver the newspapers alone at night throughout the Inland Empire. He would drop them off at churches on Sunday morning, too, because he could not afford to pay a courier. AB 5 would take Black newspapers back to those difficult days.
Although some of our publications in California have websites, more than 60 percent of them still publish only print editions.
We’ve done the math. Having to hire couriers as full-time employees would force us to limit our circulation areas or raise the prices of our papers. Either option would hurt our revenue so badly, it would no longer make sense to stay in business.
We all know the backbone of our democracy is a free and independent press providing truthful, objective and balanced information critical to the lives, health, and overall wellbeing of all our citizens.
Since Freedom’s Journal, the first African-American newspaper, was published in 1827, the Black press in the United States has played a central role in the lives of Black Americans as an advocate, trusted source of information, and rallying point for issues (often involving life-and-death) directly affecting our communities. From the years of legal slavery to the Emancipation Proclamation, through the Civil War, Jim Crow and lynching, through the Civil Rights era and economic sustainability, we have always depended on the Black Press. The medium has been a purveyor of news critical to keeping our families safe, informing our decisions, and shaping our opinions.
Black newspapers across the country in 2019 have a combined circulation approaching 15 million.
Americans read Black publications even though mainstream newspapers exist. Mainstream national and local newspapers often overlook or under-report very important issues vital to the lives of African Americans. Our papers bring unique perspectives to the news, pointing out how news stories impact Black Americans differently. We expand the base of knowledge on every topic we cover and bring untold stories to the historical record. Most of us also write in familiar and relatable voices from points of view that resonate with our readers.
In California, the cost to live in our coastal cities has become unaffordable for the majority of African Americans. More and more, we see our families migrating to distant suburbs or inland cities and towns east of Los Angeles, the Bay Area, the Central Coast, and San Diego.
While many of our papers are still located in historic Black neighborhoods near or our around those major metropolitan areas, our drop-off points have become more far-flung and the radius of our circulation areas have dramatically increased. Now, more than ever, the role of our contract delivery drivers is an essential aspect of our businesses.
We understand the importance of passing AB 5 to introduce guidelines for implementing the Dynamex decision, but we also need your intervention to protect the legacy and livelihood of our publications as we live up to the responsibility that we never take lightly: That is to strengthen and maintain freedom and democracy in our state and across our country.
In the words of educator and journalist Ida B. Wells, “The people must know before they can act and there is no educator like the press.”
Regina B. Wilson is executive director of California Black Media