They claim that Uber and Lyft are knowingly and illegally misclassifying drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. The state and cities argue drivers are being deprived of workplace protections during COVID-19 -- like minimum wage and overtime, sick leave, disability insurance, and unemployment insurance.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the lawsuit Tuesday during a news conference. The labor law, known as AB5 and considered the nation's strictest test, took effect Jan. 1 and makes it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees who are entitled to minimum wage and benefits such as workers compensation.
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"In this crisis, there's no question that the drivers of Uber and Lyft are exposing themselves to great risk as they transport first responders and essential workers and family members to grocery stores to get medicine," said L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer.
Lyft released a statement saying: "We are looking forward to working with the Attorney General and mayors across the state to bring all the benefits of California's innovation economy to as many workers as possible, especially during this time when the creation of good jobs with access to affordable healthcare and other benefits is more important than ever."
Meanwhile, an Uber spokesperson said, "At a time when California's economy is in crisis with four million people out of work, we need to make it easier, not harder, for people to quickly start earning. We will contest this action in court, while at the same time pushing to raise the standard of independent work for drivers in California, including with guaranteed minimum earnings and new benefits."
California represents Uber and Lyft's largest source of revenue. The companies, as well as Doordash, are funding a ballot initiative campaign to exclude their drivers from the law while giving new benefits such as health care coverage. The initiative is likely to qualify for the November ballot.
A federal judge in February denied Uber and Postmates' request for a preliminary injunction that would have exempted them from the law. But separately, a federal judge in January indefinitely blocked the law from applying to more than 70,000 independent truckers, deciding that it is preempted by federal rules on interstate commerce.
The state Legislature is also considering amending the law, though lawmakers are split whether to broaden or narrow it as other groups - such as freelance writers and photographers - contend they have been hurt by it through unintended consequences.
The state's lawsuit alleges that Uber and Lyft haven't paid enough payroll taxes as a result of the misclassification. The suit seeks restitution for unpaid wages owed to drivers, civil penalties and a permanent ruling that would prohibit the companies from misclassifying drivers in the future.
KGO-TV and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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