Uber, Lyft drivers contractors, court rules

OAKLAND: App-based companies like Uber, Lyft and Doordash have dodged a potentially devastating blow to their industry by carving out an exemption from a California law that required them to classify their drivers as employees instead of contractors.

California voters passed Proposition 22 and delivered a stinging rebuke to state lawmakers and labor leaders who were fighting for better working conditions for a growing number of people who drive for ride-hailing and food delivery services.

California has one of the strictest laws in the country for determining when a company must treat its workers as employees with benefits such as minimum wage, overtime and sick days.

Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Instacart and others sought to get out of those requirements, and after failing in court, succeeded in convincing voters to give them an exemption from most of the year-old law’s provisions.

A record $200 million spending spree by the companies and their supporters helped them win the vote. The investment yielded a huge return for Uber and Lyft, whose combined market value climbed by $10 billion on Wednesday.

Supporters applauded the outcome, saying drivers would be able to maintain their independence while accessing new benefits such as a guaranteed minimum wage and health care subsidies.

Don Pruitt, an accountant in Stockton, was relieved by Proposition 22’s passage because it will allow him to continue to drive for both Lyft and Uber, as well as handle deliveries for Postmates and Instacart, as he has been during the past three years whenever he isn’t busy filing taxes for his clients.

“If Prop. 22 had lost, I wouldn’t have been able to keep doing that to make extra money. I couldn’t work for all of them if I had to be an employee,” Pruitt said.

James Patterson, a Sacramento retiree who drove four years for Lyft but now does deliveries for DoorDash and Postmates, prefers the freedom of being able to make his own schedule.

“You can just work when you want and stop whenever you want,” he said. “And as someone who is retired, it’s nice to get a little supplemental income whenever you need it.”

Others viewed the development as a major setback for gig workers.

“It should be a good wake-up call for us all, across the country, if these companies think they can buy their way out of having to comply with basic labor laws,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney who has been fighting for employment protections for app-based workers.

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