SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Santas are taking a big hit in 2020 for two big reasons: the pandemic and politics.
During a typical December, Santas in San Diego would pop up at events, fundraisers, malls, parties and more. FORBS is the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, and the group meets and trains year-round to prepare the best Santas for the holiday season. This year, even these pros can’t find work.
There are two big reasons for this. The first is one that is impacting most industries right now: the pandemic. Events and parties are canceled, and malls are hurting. At a mall, Santa usually would go through a line of kids, put them on his lap, and ask them what they want for Christmas this year. Now, if Santa is able to meet and greet, face masks and Plexiglas stand in between Saint Nick and the children.
The second reason Santas are struggling to find work is Assembly Bill 5. AB 5 was publicized as a bill that would help independent contractors like rideshare drivers, but it also impacts mall Santas. Mall Santas traditionally are hired as independent contractors through third-party bookers or employment agencies. Under Assembly Bill 5, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) and passed this year, those workers are reclassified as employees with insurance and other benefits.
FORBS members fear companies won’t want to hire Santas as employees.
“What’s that mean? It just means Santa is an employee instead of an independent contractor. Santas will be getting a paycheck with holdings taken out of it,” said one Santa.
This means Santas who train year-round for this month have to adapt. Some are turning to virtual meet and greets to make ends meet.
“Virtual is definitely for me the savior of the year,” said a Santa who recently got booked up with back-to-back virtual greetings. He said he usually makes about $20,000 per holiday season, but will be lucky to break $10,000 this year, even with the uptick in virtual bookings.
Another Santa said he usually works at a mall, but that gig was canceled this year so he’s working as much as he can at Seaport Village, which does have in-person Santa photo opportunities. He said he usually makes around $10,000 per season, but will be happy if he breaks $1,000 this year.
Despite the pay drop, both Santas say they’re thankful to be able to spread a little bit of Christmas joy, and look forward to 2021 when hopefully at least one of their issues will be resolved.
"Things could be worse. We make the best of what we’ve got."