Prop. 22: California Supreme Court takes up gig worker dilemma

Rideshare and delivery drivers plan to rally outside the California Supreme Court today ahead of a case that could determine the future of the state's gig economy. 

Joseph Augusto plans to join that rally. He has been a rideshare driver for both Uber and Lyft, for almost ten years.

"I have about 25,000 rides I've completed. It's a really fun thing to do, you meet a lot of interesting people, especially here in the Bay Area," Augusto said. "The bad thing is, we don't get paid very well anymore."

He also doesn't get the same benefits other workers do, like paid sick leave or guaranteed minimum wage, because of a California ballot initiative, Prop 22.

It passed in November 2020 by nearly 60 percent of the vote.

It classified rideshare and delivery drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart as independent contractors, not employees.

"It was certainly sold as something that was supposed to make drivers' lives better. But at what cost?" said David Levine, law professor, UC College of the Law, San Francisco, referencing some driver and organized labor complaints about the law eroding gig workers' pay and benefits.

At the center of this case is whether California voters have the right to set laws about employment and how workers are compensated, or if certain worker rights guaranteed by state law.

"Who gets to decide - does the legislature get to decide, or the people of California, through the ballot process, get to ultimately decide?" said Levine. 

The seven justices on the California Supreme Court will settle the debate. Ahead of the hearing today, an Uber spokesperson warned in a statement that a change to Prop 22 would affect "Millions of Californians who would see major service reductions and cost increases—or lose ridesharing and food delivery entirely. We are confident that the Supreme Court will listen to the will of California voters and uphold Prop 22."

A spokesperson for DoorDash issued a similar statement in support: 'While a small, vocal minority powered by special interests continues to oppose this law, we will continue to stand with the vast majority of California Dashers who support Prop 22 and want to see it upheld."

Joseph Augusto said in response, "I don't believe it was OK for the voters to take away our rights."

Legal experts say the California Supreme Court could split the difference:

"It could be something in between. Perhaps they'll take out the most controversial parts of the proposition and let the rest of it stand," said Levine. 

One of the most controversial parts of Prop. 22 was cutting gig workers out of the state's workers' compensation process, limiting their protections if they get injured on the job.

The California Supreme Court has to issue a decision within the next 90 days.