Defiance of California law that will grant benefits to concert workers will go on the November ballot

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SACRAMENTO (AP) – A voting initiative backed by business giants Uber, Lyft and DoorDash will now be unveiled to California voters in November, a multi-million dollar injection aimed at excluding companies from a law that would make them give more benefits and wages protections to their drivers.

California passed the labor law last year, the strictest in the country when employers can classify workers as independent contractors. Its goal is to pressure companies to put more freelancers and freelancers on the payroll, ensuring access to benefits and minimum wages. Praised by labor groups, the general law triggered lawsuits by independent contractors such as truck drivers and freelance writers who say it leaves them without a job.

Titans of the so-called concert economy like Uber are mounting the fiercest resistance. Along with rival Lyft and food delivery service DoorDash, they want California voters in November to essentially exempt app-based drivers from the law's restrictions. All three pledged to spend at least $ 30 million each to promote the measure, surely making it one of the most expensive voting fights in California.

The California secretary of state announced Friday night that the measure became eligible for the ballot after collecting more than 623,000 signatures.

If the companies are successful in California, it could set a national precedent.

The companies want the power to keep their workers independent, proposing as part of the vote a new law that would give drivers who work at least 25 hours a week full medical coverage and benefits if they are injured on the job. Drivers could work on any application and earn a base of 120% of the minimum wage plus more based on the miles traveled.

California raised the stakes on the fight when it sued Uber and Lyft in early May for allegedly misclassifying their drivers as independent contractors under the law. The coalition leading the voting initiative, Protect App-Based Drivers & Services, claims to represent 60,000 drivers and said the lawsuit would lead to job losses during the pandemic-induced recession.

Labor organizations have promised to fight the initiative since it began collecting signatures this year, but the campaigns will be uncertain due to the coronavirus outbreak that derails traditional scrutiny efforts. Activists said in late February that they had already collected more than a million signatures to qualify the initiative, far more than required.

"It is a takeover by Uber and Lyft to essentially write a law that exempts them from basic protections for workers," said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Federation of Labor, who plans to replace door knocks with more phone calls and text messages to opposing voters. "It will be a real battle."

Stacey Wells, a spokeswoman for the election campaign, said the proposal is "win-win for drivers."

She said 80% of the million drivers in California work for applications for less than 20 hours a week. The new benefits will be attractive to drivers, he said, "in the face of a rigid employment model that will prevent them from working in multiple applications with established hours."

Critics also accuse the law of unfairly attacking some industries. Independent groups for journalists and photographers earlier this year argued unsuccessfully that the law cannot exempt some writers from its rules while keeping independent news journalists to a stricter standard. They are appealing the dismissal of a federal judge in the case.

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