Photo credit: Gig Workers Rising
Rideshare giants and delivery companies like Uber, Lyft, Doordash and others suffered a significant setback when a California Superior Court Judge ruled Proposition 22 unconstitutional on Friday. This victory for workers comes after the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and four app-based drivers sued the state government in California earlier this year to overturn the legislation.
Even though Prop 22 claims to afford flexibility to workers, in reality the legislation strips workers of protections laid out in the state’s labor laws by classifying the workers as independent contractors, not employees. It took away basic rights including overtime pay, paid family leave, sick days, unemployment insurance, and a voice at work through a union. It allowed corporations to further exploit workers and get away with doing the bare minimum while making billions of dollars in profits by reducing employee costs and raising prices.
Proposition 22 was the most expensive ballot measure in California’s history, with companies spending upward of $200 million to crush workers’ rights. Even though the measure was put directly to voters in a referendum, how could an election be considered free and fair if one side has virtually unlimited resources to spread anti-worker propaganda and brazenly distort its impact on working people?
California Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch declared the law unconstitutional, stating, “It appears only to protect the economic interest of the network companies in having a divided, ununionized workforce, which is not a stated goal of the legislation.” However, this is not the last word in the legal battle.
Backers of Prop 22 are expected to appeal the ruling and many expect the issue to ultimately be decided by the state supreme court. While that is playing out, Prop 22 remains in force and gig workers remain classified as independent contractors. Furthermore, Judge Roesch’s ruling was based on narrow grounds. He found that Prop 22’s stipulation that it can only be amended by the California legislature with a seven-eighths majority to be legally invalid. Because that section cannot be severed from Prop 22 as a whole, the court struck down the entire measure. That means the court took no issue with the classification of workers as contractors, and should appeals for Prop 22 fail in court, the door remains open for future assaults on the status of workers.
Of note, after Prop 22 passed, Uber and Lyft gained $13 billion in combined market value. Meanwhile, drivers made approximately $30,000 annually in California, 39% below the national average. The annual living wage for an individual is considered to be around $40,000. Even in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic, gig employees have served the population as frontline workers by delivering food and transporting people while having no health insurance or paid sick leave.
Additionally, testimonies from drivers also refuted the idea that being labeled an independent contractor gives workers flexibility on the job. Uber and Lyft create unsafe working conditions for drivers, for instance forcing them to accept requests without information about location or giving them bad ratings if drivers do not accept rideshares, which overall lowers the ability to generate income. Under Prop 22, gig workers are not their own bosses but are rather at the mercy of companies driven by profit seeking.
The companies that backed Prop 22 are terrified at the prospect that their workers might unionize, which would be legally impossible if they are classified as independent contractors. As the court battle continues, this victory of workers over corporations can set the precedent for gig workers in other states to rise up and fight back for their rights.