California Court Finds Proposition Classifying Gig Workers as Independent Contractors Unconstitutional

An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that the November 2020 ballot measure cementing gig workers’ contract employee status contravenes California’s constitution. In last Friday’s order granting the requested writ of mandate, Judge Frank Roesch analyzed multiple issues and found the law nonviable as to two of three asserted bases.

Last year, voters passed the statutory initiative amidst controversy. Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft as well as online food delivery service platforms vigorously supported the proposition, in some instances threatening to leave the state or drastically cut services if workers were to be classified as employees, thereby granting them sick leave, workers’ compensation, and other benefits.

This February, the state’s highest court decided not to hear a challenge brought by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). That plaintiff, along with other drivers, filed suit against the State of California requesting that Judge Roesch enjoin enforcement of the law. The state and the proposition’s proponents, intervenors in the lawsuit, opposed. After a hearing last Friday, Judge Roesch rendered his opinion.

The order explained that after Proposition 22 took effect, the state’s legislature prescribed a new test for determining a worker’s employment status known as the ABC test. It was reportedly understood to reclassify app-based drivers as employees, however, Prop 22 explicitly stated that the legislature could not contravene the initiative statute and reclassify drivers.

The court thus considered whether Proposition 22 impermissibly tread on the legislature’s constitutional grant of plenary power. The opinion explained that because Prop 22 curtailed the lawmakers’ power to enact laws, and because that provision could not be severed from the rest of the initiative, Prop 22 had to fall in its entirety.

Judge Roesch also weighed the constitutionality of Prop 22’s amendment procedure requiring a seven-eighths majority vote. The opinion described the “unusual provisions,” setting forth the esoteric requirements for legislative amendment. 

Judge Roesch recited worker advocacy and law professor amici’s views on the amendment issue before turning to his own analysis of types of amendments and conceivable scenarios where Prop 22 might unduly limit legislative power. Ultimately, the opinion found that the law’s provision provides a means of amendment “that is difficult to the point of near impossibility,” thereby unconstitutionally hindering the legislature’s ability.

The drivers are represented by Olson Remcho LLP and Altshuler Berzon LLP and SEIU by its own counsel.