San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition

Gig­work law faces chal­lenge in law­suit

- By Carolyn Said Business · U.S. News · Discrimination · Labor Rights · Human Rights · Society · Social Issues · Uber · California · San Francisco · Instacart · Modesto · Sonoma, CA · District Court · Service Employees International Union · Sonoma State University

Con­tro­versy over Propo­si­tion 22, the gig­work mea­sure that keeps Uber and Lyft driv­ers as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors rather than em­ploy­ees, didn’t end when vot­ers passed it in Novem­ber by a mar­gin of 59% to 41%. La­bor unions, along with ride­hail­ing driv­ers and a pas­sen­ger, sued Tues­day seek­ing to over­turn the new law on the ba­sis that it un­der­mines the Cal­i­for­nia Con­sti­tu­tion.

The new chal­lenge, in which the union group ar­gues that Prop. 22 “lim­its the power of elected of­fi­cials to gov­ern” and takes away work­ers’ rights, shows the on­go­ing ten­sions over gig work. On­de­mand apps al­low­ing con­sumers to sum­mon a ride or or­der in meals and gro­ceries have pro­pelled the San Fran­cisco com­pa­nies be­hind them to sky­high val­u­a­tions on the stock mar­ket. And some driv­ers and couri­ers say they have cre­ated new work op­por­tu­ni­ties. But crit­ics say the way Prop. 22 keeps gig work­ers as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors un­fairly make them sec­ond­class cit­i­zens in the work­force.

The plain­tiffs are the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union and SEIU Cal­i­for­nia State Coun­cil, as well as three ride­hail­ing driv­ers

and one pas­sen­ger. La­bor unions fought hard against pas­sage of Prop. 22, say­ing it would deny gig work­ers the ben­e­fits and pro­tec­tions of em­ploy­ment, but were out­spent by a mar­gain of 10 to 1. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and In­stacart poured more than $ 200 mil­lion into pass­ing Prop. 22, see­ing it as cru­cial to their fu­ture. Those com­pa­nies hope to take a sim­i­lar model to other states.

“If gi­ant cor­po­ra­tions are al­lowed to bankroll bal­lot ini­tia­tives that cir­cum­vent the Cal­i­for­nia con­sti­tu­tion, it sets a prece­dent that any right can be rolled back just by spend­ing enough money,” said Bob Schoonover, pres­i­dent of SEIU Cal­i­for­nia, in a press call Tues­day.

Gig com­pa­nies re­ferred ques­tion to the Yes on 22 cam­paign com­mit­tee, which put out a state­ment it at­trib­uted to Jim Py­att of Modesto, a re­tiree who drives with Uber.

“Nearly 10 mil­lion Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers — in­clud­ing the vast ma­jor­ity of app­based driv­ers — passed Prop. 22 to pro­tect driver in­de­pen­dence, while pro­vid­ing his­toric new pro­tec­tions,” he said in the cam­paign-pro­vided state­ment. “Vot­ers across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum spoke loud and clear, pass­ing Prop. 22 in a land­slide.”

Law­suits against ini­tia­tives are com­mon, es­pe­cially for those placed on the bal­lot via sig­na­ture­gath­er­ing backed by an in­ter­est group, as op­posed to by the leg­is­la­ture, said David McCuan, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Sonoma State Uni­ver­sity.

“The le­gal chal­lenge on Prop. 22 is an in­evitable part of the process,” he said. “The ma­jor­ity of those that go on the bal­lot through pop­u­lar

pe­ti­tion are chal­lenged in court. But courts are re­luc­tant to over­turn the will of the vot­ers.”

Scott Kron­land, an at­tor­ney for the plain­tiffs, said they hope for ex­pe­dited re­view by the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court, which could choose to hear the case, or could say that it must first go to the court of ap­peals or start in the trial court.

“Prop. 22 over­reached,” he said. Its pro­vi­sions about

work­ers’ comp should only have been pos­si­ble with a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, he said.

Tech­ni­cally, the de­fen­dants in the case are the Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral and Cal­i­for­nia la­bor com­mis­sioner. In a supreme irony, both of those en­ti­ties are su­ing Uber and Lyft over their driv­ers’ em­ploy­ment sta­tus — es­sen­tially com­ing down on the side against Prop. 22. Those law­suits say

Uber and Lyft vi­o­lated AB5, Cal­i­for­nia’s gig work law. Prop. 22 ex­empts gig com­pa­nies from AB5.

“A statute passes and the at­tor­ney gen­eral nor­mally has an obli­ga­tion to de­fend the statute, whether the AG agrees with it or not,” Kron­land said. “The ini­tia­tive con­tem­plates that if the AG chooses not to de­fend it, in­de­pen­dent coun­sel would be hired to de­fend it. It’s also quite pos­si­ble that some of the gig com­pa­nies might choose to in­ter­vene to de­fend the ini­tia­tive.”

In a state­ment, the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice said it would re­view the com­plaint and re­spond in court as ap­pro­pri­ate.

“Separately, our case against Uber and Lyft is on­go­ing and we’re cur­rently await­ing a de­ci­sion on pro­ce­dural mat­ters re­gard­ing the ap­pel­late court’s de­ci­sion in our fa­vor from Oc­to­ber,” it said.

The First Dis­trict Court of Ap­peal in San Fran­cisco had unan­i­mously agreed to a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion that would re­clas­sify Uber and Lyft driv­ers as em­ploy­ees in late Jan­uary. Prop. 22 would make that im­pos­si­ble, a point the com­pa­nies are ex­pected to ar­gue in court.

 ?? Damian Do­var­ganes / As­so­ci­ated Press ?? Uber driver Jose Luis Gue­vara, a mem­ber of the Mo­bile Work­ers Al­liance, shows safety equip­ment he pro­vides to rideshar­ing cus­tomers out­side Los Angeles City Hall.
Damian Do­var­ganes / As­so­ci­ated Press Uber driver Jose Luis Gue­vara, a mem­ber of the Mo­bile Work­ers Al­liance, shows safety equip­ment he pro­vides to rideshar­ing cus­tomers out­side Los Angeles City Hall.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA