The fight to bring full employment protections to gig workers in California seemed all but doomed by November’s passage of Proposition 22—a historically expensive ballot measure funded by Uber, Lyft, and others, which rolled back hard-won rights for app workers in the state. Today, workers revealed they had one last Hail Mary left.
A motley collection of plaintiffs this afternoon filed an emergency petition to California’s state Supreme Court seeking to overturn Prop 22 and have the measure deemed “invalid and unenforceable.” The group includes three drivers (Hector Castellanos, Saori Okawa, Michael Robinson), one user of such services (Joseph Delgado), as well as the Service Employees International Union—which has long fought to organize drivers in the state.
While it’s been over two months since Prop 22 passed, drivers and their counsel believed the case would be unlikely to move forward while the presidential election was still being decided.
As we covered leading up to November’s vote, a ballot measure is a profoundly difficult thing to overturn by standard means in California. Uber, Lyft, and the rest managed to secure enough votes in favor of their proposition to make it binding. So what exactly do these drivers hope to argue? Rather than take the matter to the state legislature and pray for a supermajority, they’re hoping to nail Prop 22 on the details by claiming that the ballot measure itself overreached the state constitution.
Most convincingly, the petition states that under California’s constitution, the legislation has absolute authority “to establish and enforce a complete system of workers’ compensation.” By booting gig workers off worker’s compensation—which they’d been added onto via the passage of AB5, the law Prop 22 was designed to overturn—the argument is that the ballot measure is unconstitutional.
Similar complaints are made about how Prop 22 attempts to define an “amendment”; the petition argues this, too, overreaches the judiciary branch’s authority. Doing so also, according to these drivers, is a violation of the single-subject rule, a law in California and 14 other states that requires ballot measures only be about one thing (as the name implies), to make such measures easy to understand, and to keep them from being padded with overly broad or unrelated stipulations [emphasis ours]:
Finally, Proposition 22 violates the single-subject rule by burying these cryptic amendment provisions on subjects not substantively addressed in the measure, and in language that most voters would not understand. The measure grossly deceived the voters, who were not told they were voting to prevent the Legislature from granting the drivers collective bargaining rights, or to preclude the Legislature from providing incentives for companies to give app-based drivers more than the minimal wages and benefits provided by Proposition 22. If allowed to stand, the ploy will be repeated in other initiatives as an effective means to slip potentially unpopular provisions past the voters.
That last part, while perhaps not the most related to constitutional overreach, is what’s been top-of-mind for many workers since Prop 22 passed: the fear that gig work companies will begin rolling back worker protections nationwide.
According to attorney Scott Kronland on a video press conference earlier today, he expects the court to respond—and hopefully take up the case—within a few weeks.
We’ve reached out to Uber and Lyft for comment and will update if we hear back. The petition is attached below.