Ruling that California's Prop. 22 is unconstitutional prompts dueling reactions from gig workers and rideshare companies

Uber has already vowed to appeal.

August 23, 2021, 4:42 PM

The California ride-hailing driver suing over the controversial Proposition 22 law said he can "breathe a little easier" after a judge ruled it unconstitutional, but an ongoing legal battle still looms as industry giants ready an appeal.

Proposition 22 -- a ballot measure backed by Uber, Lyft and others -- defines rideshare and related gig workers as independent contractors instead of employees, a distinction providing them less labor protections under state law.

Corporations spent more than $200 million in support of the measure, according to The Associated Press. Proposition 22 was approved by California voters last November, winning 58% of the vote.

Last Friday, however, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that Proposition 22 was unconstitutional and unenforceable after a lawsuit was brought forth by three drivers and the Service Employees International Union.

PHOTO: A rideshare driver holds up a sign supporting a no vote on Prop 22 in Oakland, Calif., Oct. 9, 2020.
A rideshare driver holds up a sign supporting a no vote on Prop 22 in Oakland, Calif., Oct. 9, 2020.
Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

"The court ruling isn’t just about us drivers or Uber or Lyft," Hector Castellanos, a full-time rideshare driver and one of the plaintiffs on the suit, told reporters during a call organized by the SEIU on Monday. "To me, it also means that corporations can’t spend their way out of following the law."

"There’s a lot to celebrate, and now I feel like I can breathe a little easier," Castellanos added. "Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to describe how much this means to me. But one thing for sure is that I’m excited to share this news with more drivers and continuing to speak out and to stand up for our rights."

Fellow rideshare driver and plaintiff Michael Robinson added that he feels "relieved."

"Prop 22 was deceptively written by gig corporations to protect their profits," Robinson said during a press conference organized by the SEIU in California. "I want others to remember that and the court’s ruling as these same gig corporations try to take copy-cat laws on the road."

"I’m happy that the court sided with drivers, but the fight is far from over," Robinson said. "We’re going to keep putting a spotlight on how the gig corporations are putting their profits above their workers."

"We won’t stop until we’re treated with the dignity and respect we deserve," he added.

Cherri Murphy, a rideshare driver from Oakland, California, told ABC News Monday that she worked at Lyft for three years before she stopped as the pandemic hit last spring because she was worried about risking her and her family's exposure to the virus. She still works as an organizer fighting for the rights of rideshare drivers in the state.

"This court ruling that Proposition 22 is unconstitutional is a major victory to all drivers across California," she told ABC News Monday. "What it indicates is that this fight is not over, and it's a major step of building a more powerful movement for protecting app-based drivers."

Murphy said the law "disproportionately hurt African Americans, people of color, immigrants and low-wage workers," and dubbed it a "corporate power grab."

Lyft referred ABC News' request for comment to Geoff Vetter, a spokesperson for a group dubbed the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Coalition that is backed by Uber, Lyft and others and was a defendant in the SEIU suit.

"We believe the judge made a serious error by ignoring a century’s worth of case law requiring the courts to guard the voters’ right of initiative," Vetter said in a statement. "This outrageous decision is an affront to the overwhelming majority of California voters who passed Prop 22."

"We will file an immediate appeal and are confident the Appellate Court will uphold Prop 22," Vetter added. "Importantly, this Superior Court ruling is not binding and will be immediately stayed upon our appeal. All of the provisions of Prop 22 will remain in effect until the appeal process is complete."

Vetter also shared a comment from Jim Pyatt, a California app-based rideshare driver who supported Proposition 22.

"This ruling is wrong and disrespectful to the hundreds of thousands of app-based rideshare and delivery drivers like me who actively supported Prop 22," Pyatt stated.

"It’s clear that the special interests behind this frivolous challenge are attacking the overwhelming will of the voters and the decisive wishes of drivers who fought to remain independent," he added.

An Uber spokesperson told ABC News that it plans to appeal, and that the measure will remain in effect pending the appeal.

"This ruling ignores the will of the overwhelming majority of California voters and defies both logic and the law. You don’t have to take our word for it: California’s Attorney General strongly defended Proposition 22’s constitutionality in this very case," company spokesperson Noah Edwardsen said in a statement.

"We will appeal and we expect to win," Edwardsen added. "Meanwhile, Prop. 22 remains in effect, including all of the protections and benefits it provides independent workers across the state."

Murphy told ABC News that Uber's announcement does not come as a surprise.

"It doesn't surprise me but yet it disappoints me," Murphy said.

Scott Kronland, an attorney representing the SEIU in the suit, said during a call with reports Monday that Judge Roesch's ruling is "solid" and "well-reasoned."

"There were several ways in which the drafters of the initiative overreached and included provisions that conflict with our state constitution, which is the higher law, and therefore we expect that the ruling will be upheld on appeal," Kronland said.

Alma Hernandez, the executive director of the SEIU California, added that she hopes the judge's ruling will send a "clear" message to states elsewhere that try to enact similar legislation.

"When you're going to try to go to the ballot to purchase your own law to deny workers basic rights, there will be a fight, and the law will be continued to be upheld by our courts," Hernandez said.

"I know that this is a national agenda that these companies have tried to run across the country, and they're trying to mimic Prop. 22 across in other states, but it serves as a warning that these fights will be challenged," she added. "And they are not on the right side of history."