State concert law puts community theater at risk

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Californians have bypassed many hobbies because of the coronavirus, including concerts, museums, movies, and live theater.

As the pandemic approaches the one-year threshold, infections are declining and some cultural activities are resuming. The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco reopened Thursday, the de Young Museum opens Saturday followed a day later by the Museum of Modern Art. In Marin County, two theaters resume screenings on Friday.

We hope that live theater will be back soon, but some community gambling dens may not return at all.

With the shows canceled, their finances suffered during the lockdown. Of course, that’s true for countless businesses. What sets these arts groups apart is Assembly Bill 5, a state law passed in 2019 that restricts the use of independent contractors.

For community theaters, this has changed relationships with actors, musicians, costumers, stagehands, technicians and others. For some actors and team members, community theater is a hobby. Others are aspiring professionals looking to gain experience. Traditionally, many of them have been paid small stipends for their work on a particular show. Under AB 5, they must be full employees or unpaid volunteers.

Raising the price of tickets to cover salaries and other employee expenses undermines the model of providing an affordable alternative to expensive professional theaters, while an all-volunteer model may make it impossible for some people to attend.

With this in mind, MP Marc Levine introduced a bill to exempt community theaters from AB 5.

“Live California theater inspires us, provides the necessary cultural enrichment and has a significant impact on the economy of our state,” the Democrat of San Rafael said in a statement announcing his legislation, AB 1227. “While we as we look to a post-COVID future, AB 1227 will be an important part of ensuring the long-term sustainability of seasonal live theater across the state. ”

A thriving arts scene is the backbone of a healthy community, so we hope Levine’s bill quickly passes through the Legislature and is enacted by Governor Gavin Newsom.

At the same time, however, Levine’s Bill underscores the continued disruption caused by AB 5’s blundered approach to employment.

The law, strongly supported by unions, codified a state Supreme Court ruling that established a new three-part test to determine whether someone could be classified as an independent contractor rather than a statutory employee. One of the main targets of the law were odd-job companies like Uber, Lyft and Door Dash, which responded with an exempting vote initiative.

State lawmakers have included exemptions in AB 5 for doctors, lawyers, stock brokers, and many other professions. In response to objections from employers and independent contractors, lawmakers granted around two dozen more exemptions last year, including translators, freelance writers, youth sports officials and some, but not all, musicians. . Newspapers continue to push for a permanent exemption for door-to-door carriers, and other employers and independent contractors also want exemptions.

The concert economy is not going to go away. Many people prefer the flexibility of combining work with childcare, eldercare, or other activities. Employers, on the other hand, will cut spending if they can’t afford higher labor costs. It doesn’t benefit anyone.

Levine’s theater bill is a good cause. But granting exemptions on a case-by-case basis is not a long-term solution. Surely there is a way for state legislators to offer more protection to independent contractors without denying the flexibility desired by workers and employers.

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