Battle for California’s app-based gig workers far from over

The November election appeared to provide some clarity over allowing companies like Lyft and Uber to avoid classifying their drivers as employees when voters approved Proposition 22.

The measure sought to free these companies from providing benefits to their workers, such as overtime, unemployment and sick leave. However, the fight over protections for these workers is likely to persist.

Companies still face challenges

Even in the wake of a comfortable Election Day win, many of these app-based companies, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Prop. 22, face old and new hurdles, including:

  • Previous legal challenges: Three unresolved lawsuits brought by the state attorney general, state labor commissioner and three city attorneys accuse these companies of illegally classifying their workers as contractors. Even though Prop. 22 passed, companies face potential repercussions for how they treated workers before the law went into effect on Dec. 17.
  • Constitutional challenge: Employee advocate National Employment Law Project may challenge a requirement that any future changes to the law must have a seven-eighths legislative majority. The group contends that is too restrictive for regulating collective bargaining agreements.
  • Biden administration: Under the Trump administration, the National Labor Relations Board deems gig workers as contractors, and the U.S. Labor Department has followed suit. However, that could change under President-elect Biden. Biden opposed Prop. 22 and also supports the PRO Act, which would make it more difficult for companies to misclassify gig workers, who would also receive federal labor protections they now lack.

The future remains unclear for gig workers

It is not certain how labor laws and protections for gig workers will evolve under the Biden administration. However, the state will continue to try to hold these companies accountable for past violations.

Uber and Lyft say they are open to collective bargaining over benefits for drivers. Groups representing drivers say they will continue to keep fighting for benefits and protections, so app-based employees are treated equally with other workers.

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