California Worker Classification

Some important news for professional fishermen and women in California occurred in September: the state’s governor signed a bill that provides anglers a two-year exemption from the state’s so-called ABC test, which is used to determine whether workers are employees or independent contractors.

Under the ABC test, a person being paid to provide labor or services is considered an employee rather than an independent contractor unless the hiring entity can prove that the person is an independent contractor. A worker is considered an employee and not an independent contractor unless the employer satisfies all three of the following conditions:

  • The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;
  • The worker performs work that’s outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and
  • The worker is engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

However, California has had in place an exemption for commercial fishers working on American vessels. The exemption had been set to expire on Jan. 1, 2023 unless extended by the state Legislature.

Existing law makes a commercial fisher working on an American vessel eligible for unemployment insurance benefits upon meeting certain eligibility criteria. Existing law also requires the Employment Development Department to issue an annual report to the Legislature on the use of unemployment insurance in the commercial fishing industry.

California Assembly Bill 2955, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 19, extends the timeframe in which the above exemption applies from Jan. 1, 2023 to Jan. 1, 2026.

“AB 2955 … merely extends the sunset on the commercial fishermen’s exemption from AB 5 (the ABC test) for three years while maintaining critical reporting requirements from the EDD (state Employment Development Department) about the extent of unemployment claims filed by these workers,” the legislation’s author, the state Assembly Committee on Labor & Employment, wrote.

“This reporting allows the Legislature to deepen its understanding of the employment relationship between fishermen and vessel owners,” the committee stated.

In a statement, the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners organization gave its support to the extension of the exemption.

“A three-year extension of the sunset is appropriate to give the Legislature some additional data when contemplating a more permanent solution in the future,” the organization wrote. “Extending the sunset date is in the best interests of California’s commercial fishing industry, the local communities and business which are dependent on our operations and the state’s food security.”

The legislation basically kicks the can down the road regarding whether professional fishermen in California can be considered employees, but hopefully a permanent resolution to the issue will come before the exemption expires at the start of 2026.

Mike Conroy

I’d like to take a moment to bid a fond adieu to Mike Conroy, who spent a number of years as the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and its sister organization, the Institute for Fisheries Resources.

As most longtime readers of this magazine know, Mike wrote the PCFFA’s monthly Fishermen’s News column after he became the organization’s executive director. And not only his columns were always well thought out, they delved into issues that typically weren’t covered elsewhere in the pages of this magazine, or anywhere else, for that matter.

In September, Mike left the PCFFA to join the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) in order to lead and enhance the organization’s West Coast engagement. Mike previously spent years on the water operating commercial and charter fishing vessels. He’s also a licensed attorney in California, focusing on small businesses, fisheries management and policy and administrative processes.

For more information on Mike and his departure, please see his final column, which can be found on page 36 of this issue. Starting next month, the column will be written by the PCFFA’s northwest regional director, Glen Spain, until a permanent new head of the federation is in place.

And to Mike: your insight and wit will very much be missed in these pages. Your successor has some very large shoes to fill, but I’m very confident that he or she will be up to the task. Thanks for everything, and best of luck.   

Managing Editor Mark Nero can be reached at