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California judge finds “the entirety of Proposition 22 is unenforceable” – Uber will appeal

On August 20th, Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court in California found Proposition 22 “unconstitutional.”

Proposition 22 was a ballot measure voted on by residents in the November 2020 election, and was supported by gig economy companies including Uber, Lyft and Doordash as a means to prevent their workers currently designated as independent contractors from being recognized as employees.

In his decision, Roesch wrote “It limits the power of a future legislature to define app-based drivers as workers subject to workers’ compensation law, making the entire measure unenforceable.”

This decision is being watched by Legislatures across the United States, where similar campaigns and initiatives are being contemplated by gig economy companies. In Canada, the province of Ontario is currently considering “The Future of Work” through a consultation being held by the Ministry of Labour.

Uber said it will appeal the decision in the following statement:

“This ruling ignores the will of the overwhelming majority of California voters and defies both logic and the law. You don’t have to take our word for it: California’s Attorney General strongly defended Prop 22’s constitutionality in this very case. We will appeal and we expect to win. Meanwhile, Prop. 22 remains in effect, including all of the protections and benefits it provides independent workers across the state.”

Uber also sent a text message to its drivers indicating it plans to appeal.

University of California Hastings law professor Veena Dubal, whose exhaustive writings on the emergence of the gig economy have helped define the debate, said the ruling is an “important first decision in what will end up being a very consequential legal battle.”

RWN file photo Toronto protest

“We won tonight, but make no mistake: Victory is never handed by legal edict to working people. To the contrary, our collective struggles are just beginning. May the platform plantation owners lose sleep as we build solidarity and power for equality and justice,” Dubal posted to Twitter.

California driver Rob Cohen wrote more bluntly: “Congratulations to Uber and Lyft – you spent more than $200 to pass Proposition 22 with a blatantly unconstitutional provision AND a clause that would nullify the remainder of the law if said section got struck down. This was entirely self-inflicted.”

Bob Schoonover, President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California State Council which was one of the petitioners in the suit, issued the following statement in response to the ruling:

“Today’s ruling by Judge Roesch striking down Proposition 22 couldn’t be clearer: 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. 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.”

“The key provision of Proposition 22,” Roesch’s decision states, “provides that ‘notwithstanding any other provision of law, in, including, but not limited to, the Labor Code, an app-based driver is an independent contractor and not an employee or agent with respect to the app-based driver’s relationship with network company if [certain] conditions are met.’ This Section exempts ‘app-based drivers’ from the ‘ABC’ test of ABS that would otherwise be applied to determine their status as employees or independent contractors. As a result, app-based drivers have been removed from participation in the worker’s compensation system, as presently codified, because it protects only employees, not independent contractors.”

In his conclusion, Judge Roesch summarized “The Court finds that Section 7465… is unconstitutional because it defines unrelated legislation as an ‘amendment’ and is not germane to Proposition 22’s stated ‘theme, purpose, or subject.’  Because Section 7451 is not severable from the remainder of the statute, the Court finds that the entirety of Proposition 22 is unenforceable.”