Striking the right balance

Opening Statement

John McNally

Managing editor

January 2020

If I have learned anything since joining this marketplace, it's that 2020 is going to be incredibly interesting for the legal community in Chicago and Illinois.

Recreational marijuana is officially legal. I can now legally lose money gambling on my (begrudgingly) beloved Detroit Lions. (Huh, just now thinking about it … the former would really take the edge of the latter.)

We’re all adjusting to this new normal and how it’s going to affect our industry. And more major changes may be coming during this year’s General Assembly session that started this month.

Our freelancer Tequia Burt talked to some of the players in the city and state who will be shaping this year’s agenda in Springfield. One of those hot topics will be “gig” workers, best encapsulated by Uber and Lyft drivers. Are they independent contractors? Or are they employees of these uber-giant technology companies that grew out of Silicon Valley?

Ride-sharing has become such a commonplace and essential part of our lives — especially in major cities such as our beloved Chicago. I use the service at least twice a week. I know people who use it every day, more than once. The gig economy is such an instrumental part to many people’s income.

Now, Springfield might get involved and make some dramatic changes. I am as pro-employee as they come and have watched my wife, a Chicago Public School math teacher, go on multiple lengthy strikes to get what’s fair for them and students.

But, if legislators and the lobbyists working them follow the California law that went into effect on Jan. 1, there could be some serious fallout.

Take for example Vox Media and its SB Nation sports blog websites in California. As an avid sports fan, I’ve been a regular reader of the SB Nation websites of my favorite teams — Pride of Detroit for the Detroit Lions; Brew Hoop for the Milwaukee Bucks; and Brew Crew Ball for the Milwaukee Brewers.

SB Nation is owned by Vox Media, and these team sites are run by paid site managers, but a lot of the content is from freelancer contributors and their pay, reportedly, is low.

On Dec. 16, Vox Media announced it will be ending their working relationships with independent contractors for the sites for all their California teams because of the new law.

The company said it will create new full- and part-time employee positions that will be based in the Golden State. Yes, many writers are going to lose an outlet for their content. But, now someone (and potentially one of those content producers) can apply and earn a job with the protections that come with being an employee.

This absolutely is a delicate balancing act that Springfield’s lawmakers need to strike so Illinois workers, especially excellent freelancers such as we use at Chicago Lawyer can continue to thrive in our state.