Driver lawsuit says Uber and Lyft's Proposition 22 is unconstitutional

The ballot measure, which has only been in effect for one month, is already facing legal challenges.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Drivers have held several protests in front of Uber's San Francisco headquarters over the past few years demanding to be classified as employees.

James Martin/CNET

A trio of ride-hail drivers filed a lawsuit in California's Supreme Court on Tuesday alleging that Proposition 22 is unconstitutional. The proposition was voted into law by California residents in November and ensures that gig workers in the state are classified as independent contractors, rather than employees.

Proposition 22 was authored by gig economy companies, including Uber , Lyft , DoorDash and Instacart, which spent more than $205 million to get the ballot measure passed. It exempts the companies from state law AB5, which requires they treat workers as employees, and requires a seven-eighths majority vote of the state legislature for any modification.

The proposition has only been in effect for one month and already it's facing challenges. The lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that Proposition 22 unconstitutionally limits California's power to protect the rights of gig workers. It says that under the proposition elected officials are unable to amend the law and allow for drivers to have safeguards like workers' compensation and the right to organize.

Gig economy companies classify their workers as independent contractors, which means drivers pay their own expenses, such as gas, car maintenance and insurance. Workers also aren't provided benefits like minimum wage, health insurance or paid sick leave. If they were to be classified as employees, many of those costs would fall on the companies.

"With Prop 22, they're not just ignoring our health and safety -- they're discarding our state's constitution," Saori Okawa, one of the plaintiffs in the suit who's been a gig worker in California for three years, said in a statement. "I'm confident the court will see Prop 22 for the corporate power grab that it is, and that Prop 22 will live in infamy along with unconstitutional ballot measures like Prop 8 and Prop 187." 

Proposition 8 was a California ballot measure that ended the right to marry between same-sex couples. And Proposition 187 put health care and education limitations on the rights of immigrants. Both propositions were eventually ruled unconstitutional.

Proposition 22 won with 58% of the vote in California. Exit polls showed that 40% of people who voted yes on the ballot measure believed they were supporting gig workers in getting a living wage. 

"Voters across the political spectrum spoke loud and clear, passing Prop 22 in a landslide," Jim Pyatt, an Uber driver affiliated with the Proposition 22 campaign, said in a statement about Tuesday's lawsuit. "Meritless lawsuits that seek to undermine the clear democratic will of the people do not stand up to scrutiny in the courts."

Uber didn't respond to a request for comment. Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart referred CNET to the Proposition 22 campaign.

During the lead up to the vote in November, the gig economy companies blanketed the state in ads, mailers, emails and text messages. They hired roughly two dozen political consulting firms known for no-holds-barred tactics, which dug up dirt on labor activists, paid drivers to appear in tug-at-your-heartstrings ads and hired firms to conduct studies that showed favorable data for the campaign.

This isn't the first time the gig economy companies have faced legal tests over the classification of their workers. Lawsuits against the companies over worker classification stem as far back as 2013. In May, the state of California sued Uber and Lyft alleging they "exploited hundreds of thousands of California workers" by classifying their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Tuesday's lawsuit is on behalf of three ride-hail drivers, one ride-hail customer, the Service Employees International Union and the SEIU's California State Council. They are asking the court to strike down Proposition 22 and are requesting the court review their petition on an expedited schedule.

"Prop. 22 not only created a permanent underclass of workers in California -- it stripped the Legislature of its power to step in and improve working conditions for hundreds of thousands of app-based workers," California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored AB5, said in a statement. "The State Supreme Court should have an opportunity to weigh in on whether corporations can use the initiative process to write their own laws with artificial barriers designed to block elected representatives from doing their job."