On January 14, Uber and Lyft drivers filed a lawsuit to overturn the California ballot initiative that makes them independent contractors instead of employees. The lawsuit, filed with the California Supreme Court, alleges that Proposition 22 is unconstitutional because it limits the Legislature’s power to grant workers the right to organize. It also excludes drivers from being eligible for workers’ compensation.
Proposition 22 was passed in November 2020 with 58 percent support. As the most expensive measure in state history, Uber, Lyft, and other services spent $200 million in support of it. Labor unions, who joined drivers in the lawsuit, spent approximately $20 million to challenge it.
The measure was written by Uber and Lyft and supported by DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart. It set out to challenge the labor law AB5 that was passed by Democrats in 2019. The law expanded a California Supreme Court ruling that limited businesses from classifying certain workers as independent contractors.
There are drivers on both sides of the lawsuit. In Modesto, Jim Pyatt, an Uber driver who favors the rideshare companies, provided the following statement to the Associated Press: “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.”
Bob Schoonover of the Service Employees International Union had this to say: “Prop. 22 doesn’t just fail our state rideshare drivers, it fails the basic test of following our state constitution. The law as written by Uber and Lyft denies drivers rights under the law in California and makes it nearly impossible for lawmakers to fix these problems.”
Associate Dean of McGeorge Law School in Sacramento Mary-Beth Moylan believes the drivers filing the lawsuit have a compelling argument: “Generally speaking, courts in California don’t like to overturn the will of the people. But the petitioners’ claim is that the people did not really have the power to do what they did. There are instances where the California courts have come in and said … it’s nice that this is what the people wanted to do, but our constitution doesn’t permit the people to do this.”
There are, however, a number of hurdles the plaintiffs will have to overcome. The first challenge is getting the California Supreme Court to take the case, as opposed to kicking it to lower courts to weigh the facts. If that were to happen, it could delay the case for years. In order for the California Supreme Court to take the case, the high court would need to find the arguments are legal, not factual, and that there is urgency to decide the issue.