Uber Lyft (Shutterstock)

Gig drivers and labor unions ask state Supreme Court to strike down Prop. 22

Lawsuit alleges voter-approved legislation violates California’s constitution

Labor unions joined with a handful of gig drivers to file a lawsuit in the California Supreme Court on Tuesday alleging Proposition 22 violates the state’s constitution and should be struck down.

Passed in November by California voters, the ballot measure was backed by a record-setting $205 million in spending by app-based companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. It gives those corporations the right to classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees, allowing them to skirt traditional labor laws. It also withdraws the right of workers to a suite of benefits, and permits the companies to offer a more limited set of protections such as a health care stipend, earnings floor and some paid leave.

It went into effect in December 2020, and Uber promptly slapped riders across California with an added fee to help cover the cost of these new benefits.

Plaintiffs, including the Service Employees International Union California State Council, allege Prop. 22 violates California’s constitution with its “overreach.”

They assert it rids the state legislature of its authority to regulate workers compensation and its ability to regulate collective bargaining; controls labor organizing efforts; and hinders the state’s ability to govern with a rule that requires a seven-eighths supermajority for any changes to the legislation.

The suit was filed in the California Supreme Court, as opposed to a lower court, because the petitioners believe the matter needs “prompt and definitive resolution” as the measure “will have profound and immediate effects on the lives of hundreds of thousands of app-based drivers and their families.”

Gig Workers Rising helped to organize campaign opposition to Prop. 22. It issued a statement in “full support” of the efforts to strike down the law, calling the measure itself “nothing more than an illegitimate corporate power grab.”

“This lawsuit is to serve as a check to corporate co-opting of our democratic process. As this challenge is brought to the courts, we will continue to organize to win drivers the dignified working conditions they have long been owed,” driver and Gig Workers Rising organizer Carlos Ramos said in a statement.

San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrea has been locked in a series of legal battles with Uber and Lyft for years. During his tenure, he’s sued the companies for misclassifying their workers after the passage of Assembly Bill 5; subpoenaed records of driver pay and benefits; investigated whether they adequately serve under-resourced neighborhoods; and has long pushed for more benefits for gig workers.

“Uber and Lyft spent record amounts of money to rewrite the law to benefit themselves. They used their investor capital to mislead the public and put their collective thumb on the scales of justice. That doesn’t mean it was lawful,” City Attorney Spokesperson John Cote said in an email. “We welcome drivers standing up for their rights. This much is crystal clear already: Uber and Lyft violated the law for years before Prop. 22.”

Uber and Lyft did not respond to request for comment, but an Uber driver from Yes on 22, the coalition backed by the app-based companies in support of Prop. 22, spoke out strongly against the lawsuit.

“Voters across the political spectrum spoke loud and clear, passing Prop. 22 in a landslide,” Jim Pyatt said. “Meritless lawsuits that seek to undermine the clear democratic will of the people do not stand up to scrutiny in the courts.”

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