Contra Costa theater group concerned over California’s new gig-worker law

Contra Costa Musical Theatre has been performing hit shows since 1961.

But like many other theater groups in California these days, it is concerned about the new state law Assembly Bill 5.

"It could potentially close us down after 58 years," says Elizabeth Wood, an advisor to the theater group. 

AB-5, the state's landmark gig-work law took effect January 1. It requires most contract workers to become company employees.

Aimed largely at ride-share companies, local theater groups say they could become collateral damage. There is not enough money in these theater groups to pay full-time wages and benefits to 50-60 actors, musicians, costumers and other backstage workers.

"We give them money for parking and gas. That's it. That's all we can afford to do. That's all any of the local, regional theater can do," Wood said.
Jennifer Perry makes her living owning and running the Ballet School in Walnut Creek. But on the side she's a director and choreographer for the theater group. 

"You are not doing it for the money. You are doing it for what makes you breath," said Perry.

Supporters of AB-5 say workers need the protections of job security, benefits, and prevent companies from exploiting them.

The theater group says that's all fine, but there appears to be unintended consequences.

"For some people it's a hobby. And now you are saying we can't have that hobby because we have to close down because we can't pay you," said Perry.
"It's starting the discussion to make sure there are fair wages for everyone," says actor Michael Doppe.

Contra Costa Musical Theatre is banding together with other Bay Area theater companies. The goal is to get state lawmakers to exempt them from AB-5. Otherwise, many could be facing their final curtains.