Uber can continue to send messages in its app to drivers about a California ballot measure that would exempt gig economy companies from having to classify workers as employees, a judge ruled late Wednesday. A California state superior court judge rejected the drivers’ request for a temporary restraining order blocking the messages, which drivers claim is “pressuring” them to support the ballot measure, Prop 22.
In his ruling, Judge Richard Ulmer called the drivers’ request for injunctive relief “belated,” noting that Uber’s campaign started in August. He also noted that the vote on Prop 22 on November 3rd would render the company’s barrage of in-app messages about the ballot measure “effectively moot.”
The judge also dismissed the drivers’ allegations of “political coercion,” stating that there was no evidence of any Uber driver being punished for not supporting Prop 22. Ulmer also accused drivers’ request for a temporary restraining order as “particularly repugnant to [Uber’s] free speech rights,” essentially siding with the company’s effort to spam drivers with pro-Prop 22 messages through its app.
In the lawsuit filed last week, Uber drivers claimed they have been getting messages reading “Prop 22 is progress” and receiving in-app warnings about what would happen if Prop 22 were to fail. They have to click “OK” before they can move forward in the app. That includes in-app videos of drivers speaking about why “Prop 22 would make a difference,” reinforcing Uber’s stance that the measure should pass.
The failure of the drivers’ request for a restraining order appears to signal the end of the court fights over Prop 22 ahead of Election Day. Last week, Uber and Lyft were again ordered by California’s court of appeals to classify their drivers as employees — though that ruling won’t go into effect until after voters have made their decision on the ballot measure.
Uber and Lyft have both claimed that they would leave California if they are forced to classify drivers as employees. Uber’s CEO also predicted a sharp increase in fare prices and fewer drivers allowed on the app if Prop 22 fails.
The battle over Prop 22 has been heating up in recent weeks, as polling shows the electorate sharply divided over whether Uber and Lyft should treat drivers like employees. The airwaves have been blanketed with pro- and anti-Prop 22 advertisements (mostly pro, given Uber and Lyft’s spending advantage over their opponents).