Court Rules California Gig Worker Initiative Is Unconstitutional

Above Photo: Gig workers rally against Proposition 22 at the California Capitol on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. The initiative would allow app-based transportation and delivery services to continue to employee drivers as independent contractors. Alie Skowronski.

A California judge on Friday ruled that a 2020 ballot measure exempting rideshare and food delivery drivers from a state labor law is unconstitutional because it infringes on the Legislature’s power to set workplace standards.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch wrote Proposition 22 is unconstitutional because “it limits the power of a future Legislature to define app-based drivers as workers subject to workers’ compensation law.” That makes the entire ballot measure unenforceable, Roesch said.

Roesch further wrote that a provision in the initiative that prevents the Legislature from granting collective-bargaining rights to drivers is unconstitutional because it “appears only to protect the economic interests of the network companies in having a divided, ununionized workforce.”

The provision applies unless a seven-eighths majority in the Legislature votes to grant collective bargaining rights to drivers.

The initiative, which Californians approved with 58% of votes in November, exempts drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash from the 2019 labor law known as Assembly Bill 5, which requires companies to give benefits to more workers.

The companies spent some $200 million pushing for Prop. 22, which obligates them to provide a health care subsidy and wage floor in lieu of complying with AB 5.

The union SEIU and a group of drivers sued the state in January in the California Supreme Court to overturn Prop. 22. But the court declined to hear the case, directing the plaintiffs to file in lower courts.

Roesch’s ruling stems from the case they filed in February.

SEIU California State Council President Bob Schoonover issued a statement celebrating the ruling.

“They tried to boost their profits by undermining democracy and the state constitution,” Schoonover said, referring to the companies who pushed for Prop. 22. “For two years, drivers have been saying that democracy cannot be bought. And today’s decision shows they were right.”

In a statement, a coalition of gig companies and community organizations supporting Prop. 22 said it will immediately appeal Roesche’s decision.

The provisions of Prop. 22 will remain in effect until the appeal process is complete, the coalition said. The case is likely to be appealed all the way to the California Supreme Court.

“We believe the judge made a serious error by ignoring a century’s worth of case law requiring the courts to guard the voters’ right of initiative,” said Geoff Vetter, a spokesman for the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Coalition.

Some workers and advocates have said the benefits detailed Prop. 22 are falling short of what was promised. They continue to press to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors, a change that would give them benefits such as paid sick leave and minimum wage for all the hours they spend on the app.

A survey of more than 500 drivers of a worker advocacy group Rideshare Drivers United found just 10% of the respondents have received the health care subsidy detailed in Prop. 22, for instance.

“This law is the opposite of what the voters in California generally want which is basic labor rights for people,” said Nicole Moore, a part-time rideshare driver and a leader of Rideshare Drivers United, at a Thursday press conference where the survey was released.