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California Supreme Court takes up Prop 22 case which could affect 1M gig workers

Fate of gig workers to be decided by California Supreme Court with Prop 22 hearing
Fate of gig workers to be decided by California Supreme Court with Prop 22 hearing 05:11

Dozens of ride-share and delivery drivers gathered on the steps of the California Supreme Court ahead of the oral arguments to possibly overturn Proposition 22, which could affect more than a million gig workers in the state.

"Justice for workers," shouted one of the speakers.

The chant was met with cheers from the crowd, which included ride-share driver Joe Augusto.

"I drive with both platforms, Uber and Lyft, and they're twins. They behave the same. Their price is the same," he said.

Augusto started driving full time in 2015 and said in the past few years his income fell dramatically, especially after Prop 22 passed.

"What the proposition did is give them a safe harbor to basically do whatever they want. They've cut what they pay the drivers about 20-30%. At the same time this is going on, passengers are paying considerably more; they're telling me," Augusto said.

He said, as a true independent contractor, drivers would be able to set their own rates, instead of the company setting the rates for them.

Prop 22 was approved by voters in November 2020, and it reclassified app-based drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, who would be legally entitled to benefits.

The oral arguments centered on whether voters have the same power as the legislature to regulate terms of employment.

DoorDash in a statement said Prop 22 was something voters and gig workers wanted.

"California voters and Dashers made it overwhelmingly clear that they support Prop 22 when they passed the law with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Today's hearing was a reminder that this law, enacted by the people, should be here to stay. More than 80 percent of Dashers and other app-based workers say that Prop 22 should remain the law, and it is our hope that the Court will agree," DoorDash said.

Lyft released a statement to KPIX as well.

"Prop. 22 protects the independence that drivers value and gives them benefits such as an earnings guarantee, access to a health care stipend, and more. The Court of Appeal's decision to uphold Prop. 22 was the right one, and consistent with long-standing legal precedent upholding the voters' initiative power. If Prop. 22 is struck down, drivers could lose access to flexible earning opportunities and millions of Californians could face difficulties finding affordable transportation," Lyft said.

UC Berkeley's Labor Center just released a new study on Monday looking at the average income of gig-drivers in five major US cities including San Francisco. It found that on average, drivers are paid less than minimum wage after expenses.

The study reported ride share drivers made an average of $5.97 an hour before tips, while meal delivery drivers made even less at $4.98 an hour before tips.

DoorDash delivery person David Lewis said being an independent contractor allows him to work when he wants instead of being forced to a certain schedule the way he could be if he was a company employee.

"It allows me the flexibility to be able to pick up a few extra hours on the side," said Lewis.

Lewis said his main job right now is working as a pedi-cab driver, but he's making about $2,000 a month working with DoorDash during the times his pedal cab is slow.

"I don't consider DoorDash to be a full-time job. I consider it to be something that supplements me to be able to make ends meet," said Lewis.

In a statement, Uber said an overturn of Prop 22 would cost Dashers like Lewis that flexibility.

"Forced employment would be devastating for the thousands of drivers and couriers who turn to Uber for flexible work and the millions of Californians who would see major service reductions and cost increases—or lose ridesharing and food delivery entirely. We are confident that the Supreme Court will listen to the will of California voters and uphold Prop 22," Uber said.

For full time gig-workers like John, he's hoping the court will find Prop 22 is unconstitutional so he's able to get the same protections as other employees.

"Everyone else has labor standards, rights, and we're singled out where we have no labor rights basically. And we don't have independent contractor rights like other people do."

While the oral arguments were made before the California Supreme Court on Tuesday, a ruling is not expected immediately. The court has 90 days to make a final ruling.

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