Judge says California ride-hailing law is unconstitutional

A California Superior Court Judge dealt a blow to ride-share companies Uber and Lyft Friday, ruling that Prop 22, which categorized ride-share drivers as independent contractors, violates the state constitution.

California voters passed Proposition 22 last November with 58% support. It was a win for ride-share companies and drivers who wanted to preserve the status of drivers as independent contractors.

Opponents of Prop 22 included drivers who wanted to be considered full employees entitled to benefits under California's labor law for gig workers.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that Prop 22 is unconstitutional. He wrote, "The Court finds that Section 7431 is unconstitutional because it limits the power of future legislature to define app-based drivers as workers subject to workers’ compensation law."

The judge sided with the plaintiffs who included rideshare drivers Hector Castellanos, Saori Okawa and Michael Robinson; Joseph Delgado, a user of app-based rideshare services; and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and SEIU California State Council.

"Prop 22 stripped California gig workers of basic rights like paid family leave, sick days, unemployment insurance and a voice on the job through a union," the SEIU said in a statement.

"What the judge objected to is that Prop 22 in the judge's view unlawfully restricts the ability of the legislature to extend workers compensation to these gig-drivers," said David Levine, a professor at U.C. Hastings College of the Law.

Levine says in addition to the worker's compensation, the judge also found Prop 22 prevented future changes to the law.

"What Prop 22 did is it improperly hamstrung, the legislature, if they ever want to change this initiative," said Levine.

South Bay State Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) leads the Senate labor committee and had written a letter to the state supreme court saying Prop 22 was unconstitutional.

"If we want to change anything in Prop 22, it says we need a 7/8-ths vote which is almost impossible," said Cortese.

Prop 22 opponents applauded the decision which would make ride-share drivers full employees.

Other drivers with the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Coalition (PADS) blasted Judge Roesch's ruling and said in a statement that it will strip their ability to work independently.

Rideshare companies also responded. An Uber spokesperson's statement said in part, "This ruling ignores the will of the overwhelming majority of California voters and defies both logic and the law....We will appeal, and we expect to win."

The ruling does not take effect immediately. The judge plans to review language for implementing his order in 10 days.