Workplace

California gig workers just defeated Prop. 22, but it's not that simple

Despite a recent ruling that Proposition 22 is unconstitutional, gig-economy workers are still independent contractors in California.

Protestors hold No on 22 signs

Proposition 22 is now unconstitutional, a judge recently ruled, but Uber and Lyft drivers are still independent contractors in California.

Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

A California judge recently ruled Proposition 22 as unconstitutional. The judge said Prop. 22, the law that classifies gig-economy workers as independent contractors, violates the California Constitution on a variety of grounds.

The ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed by the Service Employees International Union and others against the state of California.

But this doesn't mean drivers are now employees in California. Uber and Lyft, through the Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Coalition, say they plan to appeal the ruling, which will prolong the process.

Scott Kronland, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the trial court still needs to sign a judgment, which will take a few days. From there, the gig-economy companies can file an appeal. At that point, there may be litigation about whether the appeal stays the judgment pending the appeal, Kronland explained on a press call this morning.

"The bottom line is that it will be at least several months before there is a decision on appeals," Kronland said.

Kronland, however, is optimistic about the legal process.

"This is a solid, well-reasoned ruling," he said. "There were several ways in which the drafters of [Prop. 22] overreached and included provisions that conflict with our state constitution, which is the higher law. Therefore, we expect the ruling will be upheld on appeal."

Instacart and other gig-economy companies spent $224 million urging voters to pass Prop. 22, with a key message that it would give workers employee-like benefits while keeping their status as independent contractors. The companies, which are pursuing similar legislation in Massachusetts, viewed the ballot measure as the only realistic way of staving off AB 5, a California law that strictly limits when companies can hire workers as contractors.

"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," the coalition's spokesperson, Geoff Vetter, said in a statement following the ruling. "This outrageous decision is an affront to the overwhelming majority of California voters who passed Prop. 22."

A number of gig workers have fought against Prop. 22 long before it became law. Since its passage, some workers have protested against it, arguing gig-economy companies misled them about the benefits that would be available under the legislation. They also take issue with the fact that Prop. 22 does not enable them to form unions.

In May, We Drive Progress, Mobile Workers Alliance and SEIU 1021 staged a protest outside Uber's new offices in San Francisco to demand that companies automatically provide health insurance stipends to all workers who meet the minimum time requirements. Under Prop. 22, companies can make gig workers apply for the benefits.

Gig workers across the country hit the streets again in July, staging a protest and strike in response to Uber, Lyft and other companies' labor practices. One demand was the right to unionize.

"I came here to fight to be able to unionize," Ibrahim Diallo, a rideshare driver in the San Francisco Bay Area, told Protocol at the time. "It's unbelievable that we are not allowed to form a union."

Another driver, Erica Mighetto, told Protocol up to 80% of driver fares went directly to Uber and Lyft. Uber, however, disputed that claim.

On the press call, rideshare driver and plaintiff Mike Robinson said he felt "relieved that the court struck down Prop. 22." He called the legislation "shameful" and said it "stripped us of our basic rights as workers."

But Uber, just like SEIU and the plaintiffs, are confident in the appeals process.

"We will appeal and we expect to win," Uber spokesperson Noah Edwardsen said in a statement. "Meanwhile, Prop[.] 22 remains in effect, including all of the protections and benefits it provides independent workers across the state."

SEIU 721 President Bob Schoonover put Prop. 22 in the same bucket of discriminatory legislation as anti-same sex marriage ballot measure Prop. 8 and Prop. 187, which targeted undocumented immigrants. Both those measures were overturned, and Schoonover expects the same for Prop. 22.

"The attempt by Uber, Lyft and others to circumvent our democracy has failed,"Schoonover said on the press call. "Corporations alone should not dictate laws in our state. SEIU will continue to stand alongside the drivers waging this critical fight to protect democracy from the highest spender."

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