LOS ANGELES – Drivers for app-based ride hailing and delivery services filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to overturn a California ballot initiative that makes them independent contractors in lieu of employees who qualify for benefits and job protection.
According to the California Supreme Court suit, Proposition 22 is unconstitutional because it limits the legislature’s power to give employees the right to organize and excludes directors from qualifying for employee compensation.
The measure, passed with 58% support in November, was the most expensive in state history, with Uber, Lyft and other services donating $ 200 million to support it. Unions, who joined the drivers in the lawsuit, spent about $ 20 million to challenge it.
‘Prop. Not only does 22 fail our ride-sharing drivers, it fails the basic test of following our state constitution, ”said Bob Schoonover of the Service Employees International Union. “The law as written by Uber and Lyft denies driver rights under California law and makes it nearly impossible for lawmakers to resolve these issues.”
Drivers filing the lawsuit will have to overcome several hurdles, but their arguments are compelling, said Mary-Beth Moylan, associate dean of McGeorge Law School in Sacramento.
The first challenge is that the California Supreme Court is taking the case rather than kicking it to lower courts to weigh up the facts, which could delay the case for years. To do this, the Supreme Court would have to rule that the arguments are legal, not factual, and there is urgency to decide the matter, Moylan said.
The second challenge is that courts have generally shown wide respect to voters to adopt such initiatives.
“Generally speaking, courts in California don’t like to undo the will of the people,” Moylan said. “But the petitioners argue that the people did not really have the power to do what they did. There have been instances where the California courts would come in and say … it is a good thing this is what the people wanted to do, but our constitution does not allow the people to do this. “
The lawsuit is the latest round in the high-stakes battle between Labor and the titans of the gig economy, all based in San Francisco.
Proposition 22 was written by Uber and Lyft and supported by DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart to challenge the groundbreaking AB5 labor law passed by Democrats in 2019. The law extended a California Supreme Court ruling restricting companies from classifying certain employees as independent contractors.
The measure granted the delivery services an exemption from the law that would have required drivers to receive protections such as minimum wages, overtime, health insurance and expense allowance.
Under the measure, drivers will remain independent contractors exempt from mandates such as sick leave and employee commitment, but would receive “alternative benefits” including a guaranteed minimum wage and health insurance subsidies if they work an average of 25 hours per week.
Uber and Lyft responded hours after they were contacted, but a group supporting the voting initiative released a statement criticizing the lawsuit as an attempt to reverse the vote.
“Voters from across the political spectrum spoke loud and clear and passed Prop. 22 in a landslide,” Jim Pyatt, an Uber driver in Modesto, said in the statement. “Meritorious lawsuits that seek to undermine the clear democratic will of the people face up for review in the courts.”
The lawsuit alleges the measure violates state legislators ‘authority to establish and enforce a workers’ compensation system, which would require a constitutional amendment.
“They argue that this should have been a constitutional change, not a legal change,” Moylan said. “I think that argument probably has some legs.”
She said the outcome could turn out whether the statute actually changed the working conditions of the workers or did something less.
Another claim in the lawsuit alleges that the measure violates a rule restricting ballots to one subject. Moylan said courts have generally interpreted that broadly and found no violations based on that allegation.
“I think it’s an intellectually meritorious argument,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a winner.”