A coalition of app driver groups, consumer activists, and labor unions filed a lawsuit in California Supreme Court on Tuesday claiming that voter-enacted Prop 22 violates the state’s constitution and must be struck down.
Prop 22 allows workers like rideshare and delivery drivers on app platforms to be treated as independent contractors and exempted from the law known as AB 5. Were it not for Prop 22, companies would be required to provide drivers with California minimum wage for the full time they are working, overtime, health insurance, and other worker protections. The measure does establish “alternative benefits” such as a health insurance subsidy for certain workers.
“We look forward to the court affirming that gig companies cannot strip workers of their fundamental right to bargain for better pay and working conditions—and that corporations alone should not dictate the laws in our state,” says Bob Schoonover, president of the SEIU Local 721.
The suit hinges on two key points. They claim the law oversteps the state constitution in how it limits the power of elected officials to set policies, including those regarding worker organizing and eligibility for state workers’ comp programs. Further, the complaint argues, the language of the proposition itself covered too many different aspects of gig work and violated a rule that a ballot prop can only address one single issue or subject at a time.
“With Prop 22, they’re not just ignoring our health and safety—[the companies are] discarding our state’s constitution,” says Saori Okawa, one of the named plaintiffs in the suit. “I’m joining this lawsuit because I know it’s up to the people we elect to make our laws, not wealthy executives who profit from our labor. I’m confident the court will see Prop 22 for the corporate power grab that it is, and that Prop 22 will live in infamy along with unconstitutional ballot measures like Prop 8 and Prop 187.”
Prop 8 was an anti-gay marriage law passed by California voters in 2008; Prop 187 was a 1994 voter initiative designed to limit the ability of undocumented immigrants to access state services and establish a “citizenship screening system.” Prop 8 was struck down in the courts two years after passage. Prop 187 remained on the books for 20 years, until it was repealed by the legislature.
Those who supported Prop 22 say that the measure represents the will of California’s electorate.
“Nearly 10 million California voters–including the vast majority of app-based drivers–passed Prop 22 to protect driver independence, while providing historic new protections,” Jim Pyatt, an Uber driver and representative for the Protect App Based Jobs and Services Coalition, a Yes on 22 advocacy group, asserts in response to the filing. “Voters across the political spectrum spoke loud and clear, passing Prop 22 in a landslide. Meritless lawsuits that seek to undermine the clear democratic will of the people do not stand up to scrutiny in the courts.”
Should the law be struck down in court, that could have implications even beyond California. Following their victory with 22, tech corporations were quick to express an eagerness to establish similar policies in other states.
“I think Prop 22 has now created a structure for us to discuss with leaders in other states and Washington, potentially,” Lyft Chief Policy Officer Anthony Foxx told The Washington Post shortly after election results were in. “We think that Prop 22 has now created a model that can be replicated and can be scaled.”
A recent court decision in New York found that, according to the local laws of that state, Uber “exercised sufficient control over its drivers to qualify as their employer,” and found the company to be liable for unemployment insurance contributions for the drivers.
Locally, labor leaders say the impacts of Prop 22 are already being felt as some jobs that were once company employees are transitioned to app-based contractors. Grocery store chains Albertsons and Vons have been accused of laying off unionized delivery drivers and replacing that portion of their business with an arrangement with DoorDash.
“Albertsons Companies made the strategic decision to discontinue using our own home delivery fleet of trucks in select locations, including Southern California,” a company spokesperson told Newsweek, though he did not specifically link the decision to Prop 22.
Others, however, were willing to make that link.
“These layoffs are unsurprising after the passage of Proposition 22, which gutted worker protections while making it easier for companies to shift financial burdens onto newly-designated ‘independent contractors,'” Mike Dickerson wrote for Knock L.A.