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A California law aimed at requiring gig economy companies to classify workers as employees took effect Jan. 1. That hardly settled the matter.
When the clock struck midnight on January 1, California’s controversial Assembly Bill 5 went into effect. The bill, already the subject of sturm, drang, and a $110 million campaign for a state ballot initiative funded by the companies it targets, is meant to transform the hundreds of thousands of contractors in the state working for companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates into employees. This reclassification would entitle them to benefits like hourly minimum wages, workers’ and expense compensation, and potentially, health care.
But the turning of the calendar did not automatically make Uber drivers or Postmates deliverers employees. According to the state’s Employment Development Department website, in the new year “workers will be considered employees unless proven otherwise.” But the companies are spending lots of time (and lawyers’ billable hours) to prove otherwise. The next phase of the fight will take place in the courts, as workers, and potentially California officials, seek to enforce the law, and the companies seek to evade it.
To wit: This week, some 48 hours before the law went into effect, Uber, Postmates, and two workers for those companies filed suit against the state, seeking to stop the law. Using statements from the lawmakers behind the bill as evidence, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that AB 5 targeted app-based workers and platforms, “treating them disparately from traditional workers.” Thus, they argued, the law violates the Equal Protection Clauses of both the California and US constitutions.
These sorts of equal protection claims can be difficult to prove, especially if the “protected class”—here, app companies and workers—is not one of those historically denied equal protection under the law because of their race, religion, or national origin.
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