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Judge rules California Prop 22 gig workers law is unconstitutional

Voters approved the law in November

App-based drivers from Uber and Lyft protest in a caravan in front of City Hall in Los Angeles on October 22, 2020 where elected leaders hold a conference urging voters to reject on the November 3 election, Proposition 22, that would classify app-based drivers as independent contractors and not employees or agents
Drivers held a protest against Prop 22 in October. The measure passed in November, however.
Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

California’s gig workers law, which allows companies like Uber and Lyft to treat workers as independent contractors— not employees— has been ruled unconstitutional and unenforceable by a judge. Voters approved the law as ballot initiative Proposition 22 in November, with companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash spending more than $200 million to campaign for the measure. Labor organizations, including the Service Employees International Union, opposed it.

California Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled Friday that the law illegally “limits the power of a future legislature to define app-based drivers as workers subject to workers’ compensation law,” adding that “The entirety of Proposition 22 is unenforceable.” He also ruled that it was unconstitutional to that the law required any future amendments to have a seven-eighths vote of approval to pass the legislature.

In January, a group of Uber and Lyft drivers, along with the SEIU, filed a lawsuit seeking to have the measure overturned. The law exempts gig employers from providing benefits and protections to workers, but requires that they offer healthcare subsidies and minimum hourly earnings.

Roesch took issue with the part of the law that requires any future California state law concerning collective bargaining for gig workers to comply with the Prop 22 law. “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,” he wrote.

Geoff Vetter, a spokesperson for the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Coalition (PADS), which includes Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart, said in a statement emailed to The Verge that they plan to appeal. 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,” Vetter wrote, noting that a majority of California voters had approved the measure. “All of the provisions of Prop 22 will remain in effect until the appeal process is complete.”

Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU California State Council praised the judge’s ruling in a statement emailed to The Verge.

“The gig industry-funded ballot initiative was unconstitutional and is therefore unenforceable. Companies like Uber and Lyft spent $225 million in an effort to take away rights from workers in a way that violates California’s Constitution,” Schoonover wrote. “They tried to boost their profits by undermining democracy and the state constitution. For two years, drivers have been saying that democracy cannot be bought. And today’s decision shows they were right.”

Update August 21st 12:16PM ET: Adds statement from SEIU