Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, thanked drivers for the win in a late-night email. “The future of independent work is more secure because so many drivers like you spoke up,” he wrote. He said Uber would make the new benefits promised by Prop. 22 available “as soon as possible.”
“The last 14 months in California have been the most critical point on this issue,” said Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist who advised Uber on political issues during its early years. Emboldened by the election, Uber and other gig economy players will likely pursue federal legislation to formally enshrine gig work in the nation’s labor laws.
The passage of Prop. 22 is a bitter loss for state and local officials who have long seen the ride-hailing companies as obstinate upstarts that shrugged off any effort to make them follow the rules.
Many local officials believed California was too gentle for too long when it came to regulating Uber and Lyft and naïve about how powerful and influential the ride-hailing companies would quickly become.
“For all too long, Uber and Lyft banked on the timidity of public officials throughout the country,” said Dennis Herrera, the city attorney of San Francisco. Mr. Herrera has sued Uber and Lyft in an attempt to force them to employ their drivers, and the litigation continues. “They said, ‘We’re not going to ask permission, we’ll sort of ask for forgiveness after the fact, once the horse has left the barn.’”
Uber and Lyft launched in the early 2010s with just a handful of drivers, resembling car pool services more than professional fleets. While Uber initially attempted to mimic black car services, it quickly joined Lyft in promoting the idea that drivers were drawn to the apps by the novelty of gig work rather than the promise of traditional employment.
Transit officials and taxi companies warned that the drivers lacked professional certification and were not subjected to background checks. Uber and Lyft argued that they were primarily technology companies, not transportation companies, and should not be forced into the burdensome requirements of licensing, safety checks and employment. The California Public Utilities Commission stepped in, setting baseline safety requirements but allowing Uber and Lyft to avoid hiring drivers.