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A group of drivers filed a lawsuit Thursday against the company alleging unlawful coercion from Uber because it used in-app messages to get its workers to support Proposition 22, which would allow Uber, Lyft and other ride-share companies to classify drivers as independent contractors rather than employees,
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The drivers then filed a temporary restraining order against Uber, which Judge Richard B. Ulmer Jr. denied, citing a "belated" effort on the drivers' part since the lawsuit alleges that the messages have been ongoing since August, and Californians will be able to vote in favor of or against Prop. 22 on their 2020 general election ballots.
"According to plaintiffs, Uber's driver app campaign began in August. Why plaintiffs waited months to sue and seek injunctive relief is not explained, and such delay casts doubt on their case," Ulmer wrote.
David Lowe, a partner at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe and an attorney for the drivers, said in a statement to FOX Business that Ulmer's decision puts Uber's First Amendment rights above the First Amendment rights of drivers.
"With a nod to its illegal conduct, Uber still refuses to assure its drivers it will not retaliate based on how they vote, citing that this would infringe on their right to free speech," Lowe said. "This decision seems to say that Uber’s [First] Amendment right is more important than that of their drivers."
Ulmer also disagreed with plaintiffs' allegations that Uber is causing drivers to fear that the company might retaliate against them if they do not express support for Prop. 22. "Plaintiffs' claimed interim harm is 'political coercion' by Uber. However, plaintiffs' papers point to no Uber driver who has been in any way punished for not cooperating with the Proposition 22 campaign or advocating against it," he wrote.
The drivers' lawsuit was filed the same day a California appeals court ruled against Uber and Lyft, saying they must comply with state laws to reclassify drivers. The companies appealed, and have threatened to leave the state altogether if they are forced to reclassify drivers.
The ruling does not go into effect until after Nov. 3 but could limit options for Uber and Lyft should Prop. 22 fail.
Rideshare companies argue that being forced to reclassify now will leave "hundreds of thousands of Californians out of work" and shut down rideshare services in parts of the state due to increased costs for the companies, according to a Thursday statement from Uber.
California legislators argue that rideshare drivers are entitled to the benefits that come with employee classification, such as health care, paid sick leave, family leave, workers' compensation, vacation days and more.