SAN FRANCISCO – A California judge ruled unconstitutional a ballot measure from last November defining Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors, throwing fresh uncertainty into the status of the hundreds of thousands of app-based workers.
In a ruling issued Friday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch declared that Proposition 22 is “unenforceable,” arguing several sections of the measure are unconstitutional under California state law. They included a section that required a seven-eighths legislative supermajority to amend the measure, which defied the legislature’s amendment power under the state constitution, according to the judge.
Roesch said that avenue for amendments ran counter to the state constitution, instituting a threshold that was “difficult to the point of near impossibility.”
In California, ballot measures are required to be limited to a single subject, and the provisions in the measures must be related. The judge found that the measure pitched to Californians in November overstepped that requirement by limiting the legislature’s ability to allow workers’ to collectively bargain. Proposition 22 passed by a 59% to 41% vote in November.
“A prohibition on legislation authorizing collective bargaining by app-based drivers does not promote the right to work as an independent contractor, nor does it protect work flexibility, nor does it provide minimum workplace safety and pay standards for those workers,” Roesch wrote. “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.”
Uber criticized the ruling Friday and said it intended appeal.
“This ruling ignores the will of the overwhelming majority of California voters and defies both logic and the law,” Uber spokesman Noah Edwardsen said. “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.”
The hotly contested measure, driven by a $200 million campaign mounted by companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, followed a 2019 state law that defined Uber and Lyft drivers as employees. The companies and fellow apps mounted a vigorous defense, arguing the requirements of employment would impede the flexibility they offer drivers – and that the majority of drivers did not want to be employees.
Advocates for employment argued drivers should be entitled to a minimum wage and benefits such as health insurance, sick leave and job protections.
Prop 22 created a limited set of benefits such as an earnings guarantee and a health care stipend, but not the typical protections of employment under state law.
Geoff Vetter, a spokesman for the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Coalition, said his pro-Prop 22 group would file an immediate appeal.
“This outrageous decision is an affront to the overwhelming majority of California voters who passed Prop 22,” he said in a statement. “We will file an immediate appeal and are confident the Appellate Court will uphold Prop 22.”
Vetter noted the court ruling is not binding and said he expected it to be stayed as the group appeals.
Lyft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Veena Dubal, a Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings who co-wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the petitioners, said the companies erred in “trying to completely take away the right of legislatures and municipalities to do anything on behalf of workers, as well as trying to take the workers out from the state’s workers’ compensation scheme.”
“They were trying to do too much in one proposition,” she said.
Stanford University law professor emeritus William Gould, who also co-wrote on behalf of the petitioners, said the judge’s methodical arguments would be hard to defend against. The gig companies faced a steep road ahead, he said, potentially stretching beyond the Court of Appeal.
“I think this is quite obviously important and precedential, and the final word is going to be with the Supreme Court of California,” he said.