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California Union, App-Based Drivers Fight Against Prop 22

App-based drivers and a major labor union are pushing back against Proposition 22 with a lawsuit in California's Supreme Court that claims the proposition is unconstitutional.

A person sitting in the driver's seat of a car using the Uber app on their smartphone.
Proposition 22, a ballot initiative passed in California last November, is facing scrutiny as app-based drivers, rideshare consumers and labor unions mount an effort in California’s Supreme Court to strike it down. 

When originally proposed, the ballot initiative aimed to define app-based rideshare and delivery drivers as independent contractors instead of employees or agents; however, since being approved, those affected by the new rule now claim that the ballot measure is unconstitutional.

The suit alleges that Prop 22 unconstitutionally limits elected officials’ power to govern states by stripping the Legislature’s ability to grant workers the right to organize improvements to their pay and working conditions and illegally excludes them from the state workers’ compensation program.

The plaintiffs — including three on-demand drivers and one passenger, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and SEIU California State Council — also claim that the proposition violates a provision in California’s Constitution, which requires that ballot initiatives address a single subject.

“Every day, rideshare drivers like me struggle to make ends meet because companies like Uber and Lyft prioritize corporate profits over our wellbeing,” driver Saori Okawa said in a release.

“With Prop 22, they’re not just ignoring our health and safety; they’re discarding our state’s constitution,” Okawa said. “I’m joining this lawsuit because I know it’s up to the people we elect to make our laws, not wealthy executives who profit from our labor.”

In terms of the specific complaints against Prop 22, the lawsuit alleges: 

  • The proposition unconstitutionally limits the California Legislature’s ability to establish and enforce a system of workers’ compensation for gig workers. The California Constitution gives the Legislature “unlimited” authority to provide for a worker’s compensation system, so a statutory initiative cannot limit that authority.

  • Prop 22 unconstitutionally defines an amendment as any legislation that authorizes any entity to collectively bargain on drivers’ behalf or treat rideshare drivers differently from other workers. In California, it is the Legislature’s constitutional authority to enact legislation so long as it does not impermissibly amend a ballot measure and of the judiciary to decide what constitutes an amendment to a ballot measure. 

  • Prop 22 unconstitutionally violates the “single-subject rule” governing ballot measures in California, which require initiative statutes to only address a single subject addressed in the measure’s substance. 

“Corporations alone should not dictate the laws in our state,” Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU Local 721 and SEIU California State Council, said in a release. “Prop 22 is an unconstitutional attack on Californians’ rights that if left unchecked will grant permission to companies like Uber and Lyft to dismantle workers’ rights across the country.”

Katya Diaz is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.