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Union Challenge to Prop 22 Rejected by California High Court

The California Supreme Court denied a petition challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 22, an initiative that exempts app-based companies from a labor law that would make it harder to classify workers as independent contractors.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The California Supreme Court has decided not to hear a petition from gig workers and a powerful labor union seeking to overturn Proposition 22, an initiative voters passed last year cementing the independent contractor status of thousands of rideshare drivers in the state. 

The court did not give a reason for its decision, but posted a notice on its website on Wednesday saying it had denied the petition.

The Service Employees International Union and several gig workers filed a direct writ with the high court in January. They claimed, among other things, that the measure unconstitutionally overrides the Legislature’s authority to extend workers’ compensation benefits to app-based drivers in the future, and impermissibly requires a supermajority vote to make any amendments.

Gig economy giants like Uber, Lyft, and Doordash spent $205 million to pass the initiative exempting them from a new California law requiring a strict test to determine if companies can continue to classify workers as independent contractors and deny them benefits. 

Attorney Scott Kronland, who filed the petition on behalf of the drivers and the union, said last month that the writ was filed directly with the state Supreme Court to avoid years of litigation in multiple lower courts. But the court's rejection means that the case will have to be re-filed in state court and work its way up to the justices again. 

In an emailed statement, rideshare driver Hector Castellanos said he and his fellow plaintiffs are undeterred. 

“We will consider every option available to protect California workers from attempts by companies like Uber and Lyft to subvert our democracy and attack our rights in order to improve their bottom lines,” he said, adding, “I joined together with my fellow rideshare drivers to file an urgent challenge against Prop 22 at the Supreme Court because we know that in a democracy, corporations shouldn’t get to write our laws. Prop 22 is an unconstitutional attack on the ability of the California Legislature to pass any laws to protect gig workers like me, even in the middle of a deadly pandemic.” 

The ride-hails’ campaign coalition Protect App-Based Drivers and Services praised the denial through Jim Pyatt, an Uber driver in Modesto, who said the will of the voters should be respected.  

"We’re hopeful this will send a strong signal to special interests to stop trying to undermine the will of voters who overwhelmingly stood with drivers to pass Proposition 22,” he said.

“The ballot measure was supported by nearly 60 percent of California voters across the political spectrum including hundreds of thousands of app-based drivers. It’s time to respect the vast majority of California voters as well as the drivers most impacted by Prop 22.”

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