In a late Friday night blow to Uber, Lyft and other gig worker-centered companies, a superior court judge ruled that California’s Proposition 22, which was passed in 2020 and designed to overrule the state’s controversial AB-5 law on the employment status of gig workers, violates the state’s constitution.
Frank Roesch, a superior court judge in Alameda County, which encompasses Oakland, Berkeley and much of the East Bay, ruled that the law would limit “the power of a future legislature” to define the employment status of gig workers. The lawsuit was filed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in January, after a similar lawsuit was rebuffed by the California Supreme Court and referred to a lower court.
The court’s decision will almost certainly be appealed and further legal arguments are to be expected.
“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,” said Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU California State Council in a statement. “For two years, drivers have been saying that democracy cannot be bought. And today’s decision shows they were right.”
The superior court’s decision is just the latest in a long line of victories and defeats in the battle between companies that heavily rely on gig workers like Uber and DoorDash, and unions and advocates representing workers. Much of the debate centers on the legal distinction between a freelancer and an employee, and to what extent companies are responsible for the care and benefits of their workers.
Such a distinction is big business: Uber, Lyft and other companies spent more than $200 million collectively to push Prop 22 to victory last year. California voters passed the proposition roughly 59% to 41% in what was widely perceived as a major victory for gig worker platforms.
Such fights are not limited to merely Silicon Valley’s home state, however. Earlier this year in the United Kingdom, Uber lost a legal battle over its employment classification decisions and ultimately reclassified tens of thousands of its drivers as workers, a decision which offered them a range of benefits not previously guaranteed.
Updated August 20, 2021 to include a statement from SEIU.