In a momentous win for app-based drivers, the California Superior Court struck down Proposition 22 on August 20th, 2021. Gig companies such as Uber and Lyft spent an unprecedented $200,000,000+ to pass Proposition 22 in order to exempt themselves from treating app-based drivers as employees. Designating these workers as independent contractors allows companies like Uber and Lyft would to avoid their obligations to provide basic protections to their drivers, including a minimum wage, health insurance, contributions to workers compensation, and the ability to unionize. Bryan Schwartz Law has written before about these and other dangers of Prop 22: as independent contractors, drivers are paid an effective rate of about $5.64 per hour, well under the minimum wage, and would be denied an array of vital benefits and protections.
Although proponents of Proposition 22 claimed that it would protect the independence of app-based drivers, the California Superior Court disagreed in Castellanos. The court even found that a provision of Proposition 22 that prohibited the Legislature from passing laws allowing app-based drivers to unionize only served to “protect the economic interests of the network companies in having a divided, ununionized workforce” and was completely unrelated to the stated goal of protecting drivers. The court found that this provision was therefore outside of the “single-scope” of Proposition 22; however, because the provision was severable, this finding did not impact the rest of the proposition.
Even more striking to the court was how Proposition 22 curtailed the ability of the Legislature to provide a robust system of workers’ compensation, an essential part of our social safety net. Our Legislature’s ability to protect injured workers through an expansive workers’ compensation program is so critical that the power is enshrined in the California Constitution and completely unlimited by any other provision of the Constitution. Only a Constitutional amendment can reduce workers’ right to receive worker compensation. Proposition 22’s attempt to create a statute that reduced the number of employees eligible for workers compensation was therefore unconstitutional. Unlike the provision limiting drivers’ ability to unionize, this provision limiting workers’ compensation was not severable, so the court’s ruling that this provision was unconstitutional meant that the entirety of Proposition 22 was rejected.
Before Proposition 22 was in place, California used the ABC test that was established by the 2018 California Supreme Court decision in Dynamex, and codified by AB5, to determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor. Under the ABC test, a worker is an independent contractor only if: 1) the worker is not controlled or directed by their employer in how they perform their work, 2) their work is outside the scope of the employer’s usual business, and 3) the worker is working in an independently established trade or business that matches their work for their employer. The employer must prove each of these elements before it can call a worker an independent contractor. The ABC test makes it much more difficult for employers to classify workers as independent contractors, which allows many more workers to receive the benefits and protections to which they are entitled.
The decision in Castellanos vindicates the rights of hundreds of thousands of app-based drivers throughout California. This decision will likely be appealed, but it still represents an important step towards ensuring that app-based drivers receive the respect and protections that they deserve.
If you believe you have been misclassified as an independent contractor, please contact Bryan Schwartz Law.