The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced on Tuesday that it is filing a legal challenge to the constitutionality of Proposition 22, the $200 million ballot measure that California voters approved in November to keep gig drivers independent contractors rather than employees.
The petition for a writ of mandate, filed in the California Supreme Court, alleges the measure unconstitutionally limits the power of elected officials to govern. Along with the SEIU, the petitioners are the SEIU California State Council, three rideshare drivers, and one rideshare app user. The respondents are the State of California and the California Labor Commissioner.
“Every day, rideshare drivers like me struggle to make ends meet because companies like Uber and Lyft prioritize corporate profits over our wellbeing,” Saori Okawa, one of the petitioning drivers, said in a statement. “With Prop 22, they’re not just ignoring our health and safety — they’re discarding our state’s constitution. I’m joining this lawsuit because I know it’s up to the people we elect to make our laws, not wealthy executives who profit from our labor.”
Proposition 22, the most expensive ballot measure in California history, carves out app-based transportation and delivery drivers from AB 5, the landmark bill that took effect in 2020 making it much harder for companies to classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees. AB 5 codified the California Supreme Court’s decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, setting out what’s known as the “ABC test” for determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.
Gig companies had been fighting the law in the courts since it took effect, and Prop. 22’s passage was a victory for companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, whose business models are built on a labor force of independent contractors who aren’t entitled to traditional employment benefits.
Tuesday’s petition alleges that Prop. 22 “withdraws minimum employment protections from hundreds of thousands of California workers,” which “would be profoundly harmful to many workers, but not necessarily unconstitutional, if the measure had not overreached in several significant ways.”
The petitioners claim that Prop. 22 strips the state Legislature of its ability to grant workers the right to organize and illegally excludes workers from the state’s workers’ compensation program. They also allege the initiative unconstitutionally violated the “single subject rule” governing California ballot measures.
“We look forward to the court affirming that gig companies cannot strip workers of their fundamental right to bargain for better pay and working conditions — and that corporations alone should not dictate the laws in our state,” Bob Schoonover, the president of SEIU Local 721 and SEIU California State Council, said in a statement. “Prop 22 is an unconstitutional attack on Californians’ rights that if left unchecked will grant permission to companies like Uber and Lyft to dismantle workers’ rights across the country.”
Jim Pyatt, an Uber driver in Modesto, called the petition “meritless” in a statement emailed through the coalition that supported Prop. 22.
“Voters across the political spectrum spoke loud and clear, passing Prop 22 in a landslide,” Pyatt said. “Meritless lawsuits that seek to undermine the clear democratic will of the people do not stand up to scrutiny in the courts.”
A spokesperson for the California Attorney General’s office said in an email that the office will review the complaint and “respond in court as appropriate.”
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