From time to time, ASJA members go above and beyond to serve members and other professional freelance writers. Since 2019, seven ASJA members have worked tirelessly in their opposition of several anti-freelance bills and laws sweeping the country. In honor of their tremendous work, ASJA is recognizing Randy Dotinga, Debbie Abrams Kaplan, Kim Kavin, JoBeth McDaniel, Jen Singer, Milt Toby, and Karon Warren with 2021 Exceptional Service Awards. This special honor is given out only periodically, when members have demonstrated sustained efforts that go beyond the ordinary.
It is because of these members that ASJA has been on the forefront of the fight against legislation that threatens the freelance business model. In California, Randy Dotinga and JoBeth McDaniel were among the first to recognize the dangers of California’s AB5 in 2019. They alerted the ASJA board and then went to work lobbying legislators in the state. After the bill passed, Randy and JoBeth doubled down, successfully convincing lawmakers to carve out exemptions for freelance print and online journalists.
As president of ASJA, Milt Toby, guided the organization through the process of joining a First Amendment lawsuit against California. American Society of Journalists and Authors v. Bonta was filed in December 2019, after AB5 was passed but before it went into effect. Led by pro bono attorneys at Pacific Legal Foundation, ASJA joined the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) to fight the state on the grounds that AB5 limits a free press. (The name of the case was changed from American Society of Journalists and Authors v. Becerra after a new states attorney was elected.) As an attorney, Milt was particularly well suited for leading this effort. Sharing his professional expertise, he helped the board and members understand the importance of such a step and our chances of winning. Regardless of the outcome of this case, ASJA has been able to take a stand against AB5 in the courts, in no small part thanks to the hard work of Milt Toby.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the state legislature introduced its own version of AB5. AJSA members Debbie Abrams Kaplan, Kim Kavin, and Jen Singer swung into action and stopped the New Jersey bill from advancing through a combination of grassroots organizing, lobbying and a media campaign. They branded Fight for Freelancers New Jersey and encouraged freelancers in other states to fight measures there, too, creating Fight for Freelancers groups in New York, Massachusetts and elsewhere. When pressure emerged at the federal level to advance the PRO Act, with anti-freelancer language similar to the state bills, they created Fight for Freelancers USA. Karon Warren then stepped up and became an invaluable partner in helping to lead the federal effort from Georgia.
Everyone honored with this award did all of this while managing their own careers, families, and the effects of a worldwide pandemic.
Our case against California’s AB5 is still working its way through the courts, and AB5 is still causing problems for professional freelance writers in California. The New Jersey bill has been reintroduced, but so far lawmakers have not attempted to advance it again. Massachusetts and New York lawmakers are now discussing compromise legislation of various kinds. The PRO Act is stalled in the U.S. Senate, unable to get a filibuster-proof vote. It has not passed because of the tremendous work that our members and others have done to educate Senators about the deleterious effects of the measure on professional freelance writers. Our members are aware of these dangers—and have acted—because Randy Dotinga, Debbie Abrams Kaplan, Kim Kavin, JoBeth McDaniel, Jen Singer, Milt Toby, and Karon Warren sounded the alarm and taught us what to do.
Together, these ASJA members have inspired and fueled efforts of writers and other freelancers from coast to coast who have created hundreds of resources, articles, op-eds, social media posts, and letters to legislators on this topic. While the fight is far from over, ASJA would like to stop and recognize these members for their leadership and heroic efforts on behalf of freelance writers.
Randy Dotinga, Debbie Abrams Kaplan, Kim Kavin, JoBeth McDaniel, Jen Singer, Milt Toby, and Karon Clark Warren, we cannot thank you enough.
ASJA Board of Directors