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California Law Denying Basic Workers’ Rights to Food Delivery Drivers Found Unconstitutional

A judge struck down Prop 22 in part because preventing drivers from collectively bargaining only serves the economic interests of big tech

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Lauren Saria is the editor of Eater SF and has been writing about food, drinks, and restaurants for more than a decade.

Denying food delivery drivers the same protections as other workers in the state is unconstitutional, a California judge ruled Friday, August 20. In a 12-page ruling, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch asserts Proposition 22, which insulates big tech companies from having to classify workers as employees, won’t fly in part because a portion of the law prevents the legislature from giving collective bargaining rights to drivers — a move that “appears only to protect the economic interests of the network companies in having a divided, ununionized workforce.”

Of course, this is just the latest development in a long and expensive battle between tech giants and workers: In November 2020, San Francisco-based companies Uber, Instacart, Postmates, and Doordash famously spent more than $200 million to ensure the passage of the ballot measure. Prop 22 was crafted as a workaround to California law AB5, which would have forced food delivery companies to classify drivers as employees, not independent contractors. Instead, under Prop 22, tech companies can deny workers basic rights like healthcare and unemployment insurance — though the companies claim the alternative would mean workers lose perks like the ability to make their own schedules (which they arguably don’t have in the first place) and cause delivery prices to skyrocket. Even after their victory at the polls, however, they hiked prices on customers.

The ruling comes as the result of a lawsuit filed by the Service Employees International Union and a group of three drivers. The California Supreme Court declined to hear that case in February 2021, forcing the battlefront down to the lower courts. Over the weekend gig workers expressed “cautious optimism” to CNN with Shona Clarkson, an organizer with Gig Workers Rising, telling the outlet the ruling is a step in the right direction. “We know that this was just one decision,” Clarkson told CNN. “It’s not over, but I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s incredible.”

For now, Prop 22 remains in effect and a spokesperson for the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Coalition, a pro-Prop 22 coalition, says the group plans to file an immediate appeal. In a statement, a spokesperson for Uber says the ruling “ignores the will of the overwhelming majority of California voters and defies both logic and the law,” pointing to a brief filed by the California Attorney General in July claiming the lawsuit is “based on flawed legal theories.”