SUNLAND, Calif. — The California Assembly passed a bill that went into effect back in January that was designed to ensure all workers are paid fairly. AB-5 was aimed at gig companies like DoorDash, Uber, and Lyft to prevent them from classifying certain employees as independent contractors without equal rights.
The bill inadvertently hurt a large swath of the freelance population, including writers, musicians, and now, Santa.
He was already confined to his Sunland workshop when the Coronavirus disproportionately affected his age group. Now, Santa said his job is being targeted by a California law hindering his ability to do the one thing that gifts him a sense of purpose.
"AB-5 is a really bad bill because what it ends up doing is, it discriminates against those independent contractors who haven’t got any political clout," Santa Patrick Turnbull explained.
When AB-5 went into effect early this year, it required companies that hire independent contractors to re-classify them as employees.
This poses a problem for people like Santa Patrick because as employees, the companies are now required to offer them benefits and sick leave. They're taxes that many small business owners can’t afford to pay, which hurts Santa’s ability to find work.
Santa said his only option now is to create a sole proprietorship that allows him to become his own business. It’s costly and not many people like him have that option.
“I can no longer work for an agent," he explained.
Santa Patrick has been making house calls for more than 20 years now and said it’s more than just a job for him.
He’s most thankful for the families who have welcomed him in as one of their own, remembering in particular the impact he’s made on one family he visits every Christmas Eve. The first year he was called to their home was right after they had lost their grandpa.
"As I was on my way out the door, I turned to everybody and said oh by the way, on my way here, I stopped by heaven and said 'hi' to Granddad and he sends his best to you and he knows that he’s going to be caring for you. So rest assured in the fact that he loves you all," Santa Patrick recalled.
Santa is telling his stories as part of a campaign for Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), a group fighting for the rights of independent contractors.
IWF Senior Policy Analyst Kelsey Bolar said AB-5 might have been born out of good intentions, but instead has destroyed work opportunities for freelancers and the small business owners who rely on them.
Bolar said several big industries, like rideshare companies and Hollywood fought hard to get exemptions from AB-5.
"While it’s nice that certain industries were able to get exemptions from this unworkable law, it really left the less powerful, less politically connected industries out in the cold," Bolar explained.
Bolar said lawmakers are now pushing this type of legislation across the country under what she calls the guise of worker protections.
Her organization is standing up for the little guys who don’t have big microphones or big money to hire lobbyists. She notes the women, in particular, who’s flexible schedules are especially important as moms, but also the Santas, and every independent contractor in between, to continue doing what they love for the income they need.
"People see me and what I represent is happiness, joy, sharing, grace, charity," Santa Patrick said.
He's the embodiment of Christmas, all dressed up with nowhere to go.