Unions continue fight against gig economy

By Sheri Williams

The Service Employees International Union is taking the fight against the so-called gig economy into the courts to protect fair wages and working conditions.

Recently, SEIU filed a lawsuit along with members of the We Drive Progress and Mobile Workers Alliance to challenge the validity of Proposition 22, which allows app-based employers to avoid classifying workers as employees.

Proposition 22 was bolstered during last year’s election by a $200 million campaign that portrayed the measure, backed by Uber and Lyft, as good for workers.

The SEIU effort is the first legal challenge to the new law, and it argues that the measure is unconstitutional because it sidestepped the state Legislature’s authority and could prevent workers from organizing for union representation.

“Every day, rideshare drivers like me struggle to make ends meet because companies like Uber and Lyft prioritize corporate profits over our wellbeing,” said plaintiff Saori Okawa, who does food and grocery delivery in addition to rideshare driving. “With Prop 22, they’re not just ignoring our health and safety—they’re discarding our state’s constitution. I’m joining this lawsuit because I know it’s up to the people we elect to make our laws, not wealthy executives who profit from our labor. I’m confident the court will see Prop 22 for the corporate power grab that it is.”

Prop 22, which took effect last month, stripped California gig workers of basic rights including overtime pay, paid family leave, sick days, unemployment insurance, and a voice at work through a union. Instead, Prop 22 places the power to protect drivers in the hands of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft—the same companies who wrote the unconstitutional law. “We look forward to the court affirming that gig companies cannot strip workers of their fundamental right to bargain for better pay and working conditions—and that corporations alone should not dictate the laws in our state,” said Bob Schoonover, President of SEIU Local 721 and SEIU California State Council. “Like Prop 187 and Prop 8, Prop 22 is an unconstitutional attack on Californians’ rights that if left unchecked will grant permission to companies like Uber and Lyft to dismantle workers’ rights across the country. SEIU is proud to support drivers’ fight to stop this unconstitutional law.”

The lawsuit, filed in California Supreme Court, argues that Prop 22 unconstitutionally limits the power of elected officials to govern, including by stripping the legislature’s ability to grant workers the right to organize for improvements to our pay and working conditions. It also illegally excludes workers from the state workers’ compensation program. The suit also asserts Prop 22 violates a provision in the State Constitution requiring ballot initiatives address only a single subject.

The lawsuit is also supported by the California Federation of Labor.

“We stand with the hard-working drivers whose exploitation by Uber and Lyft will only deepen as a direct result of Prop 22,” said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski in an e-mail to Press Associates Union News Service.

“This unconstitutional law, which gig companies bought with hundreds of millions of dollars in political spending, is an affront to the fundamental protections and rights all workers deserve and should be expeditiously struck down by the courts.”

The state federation will join the lawsuit, Pulaski added.