Alameda’s city prosecutor could go after businesses that don’t comply with AB5

Just prior to the State Legislature approving a landmark bill last week that reclassifies gig-workers and freelancers as employees, it was amended to include language that could bolster the authority of Alameda’s new city prosecutor to go after violators of the law expected to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Assembly Bill 5 sailed through the Legislature after months of talks with gig economy companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Doordash. Newsom said he will signed the bill that requires businesses such as trucking companies, newspapers, and other software firms to reclassify their freelancers and contractors as employees.

A separate bill approved Friday night gives newspaper publishers one year to comply with AB5.

Some industries like doctors’ offices, law firms, and salons, however, are exempt.

But the inclusion of specific language for city prosecutors to litigate potential violations of the law could be another reason for other Bay Area cities to follow Alameda’s lead. Aside from Alameda, city prosecutors exists only in Southern California.

Here’s the amendment added to AB5:

In addition to any other remedies available, an action for injunctive relief to prevent the continued misclassification of employees as independent contractors may be prosecuted against the putative employer in a court of competent jurisdiction by the Attorney General or by a city attorney of a city having a population in excess of 750,000, or by a city attorney in a city and county or, with the consent of the district attorney, by a city prosecutor in a city having a full-time city prosecutor in the name of the people of the State of California upon their own complaint or upon the complaint of a board, officer, person, corporation, or association.

The Alameda City Council unanimously approved on Sept. 3 the creation of a city prosecutor position under the supervision of its city attorney. But under the current setup, Alameda would not be able to prosecute employees alleged to have violated AB5 without the consent of the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.

Changes to the city’s charter Alameda officials is currently under discussion and now include the question of giving the new city prosecutor more fulsome authority to go after not only those who flout AB5, but violations of the city’s minimum wage and rent control ordinances, in addition, to prosecuting lower level misdemeanor crimes.