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Roadblocks and Traffic Jams for App-Based Driving Platforms: Proposition 22 Found Unconstitutional

Attorney: Saima Aslam, Sadaf A. Nejat | Published 9.14.21

California Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch finds California’s most expensive ballot measure – Proposition 22 – unconstitutional and unenforceable. While Proposition 22 is still in effect pending appeal of Judge Roesch’s ruling, California companies that led the campaign for Proposition 22 are still not in the clear as it relates to workers classified as employees.

With significant backing by various app-based businesses like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart, Proposition 22 was adopted by California voters directly as an initiative statute in November 2020, classifying these and similar businesses’ workers as independent contractors rather than as employees. This means that state employment-related labor laws do not apply to those workers, including requirements for paid rest breaks, unpaid meal breaks, overtime, workers’ compensation, and paid sick leave. Instead, Proposition 22 enacts separate labor and wage policies specific to app-based workers and the companies for which they work.

Proposition 22 passed with 59% of the vote – and the response to Proposition 22 was similarly divided. Many took the position that Proposition 22 denies workers basic rights and protections such as unemployment insurance, health insurance, minimum wage, and collective bargaining – and results in a low-pay, no-protection business model that benefits giant corporations at the expense of workers.

Just a couple of weeks ago, California Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch considered Proposition 22 and found it unconstitutional for two key reasons: First, it limits the power of a future legislature to define app-based drivers as workers subject to workers’ compensation law. Second, it defines unrelated legislation addressing collective bargaining as an “amendment” which is not germane to Proposition 22’s stated “theme, purpose, or subject” of promoting the right to work as an independent contractor, protecting work flexibility, and providing minimum workplace safety and pay standards. Ultimately, Judge Roesch concluded that because these two offending sections are not severable from the remainder of the statute, the entirety of Proposition 22 is unenforceable.

The response to the ruling was strong, with those in support of Proposition 22 arguing that it ignores the will of the majority of California voters. Those supporters have already expressed their intent to appeal – and while that appeal makes its way through the courts, Proposition 22 remains in effect.

An affirmance of Judge Roesch’s ruling would limit app-based workers’ freedom to exercise control over when, where, and how much they work. However, this may be tempered by the prospect of receiving certain employee rights and protections, fueling workers to seek employee status and reap the benefits that come with the label “employee.” Either way, the fight continues.