Massachusetts Court Stops Gig Works Ballot Measure

This, the court said, goes against a clause in the state constitution that has shot down other ballot initiatives in Massachusetts in the past: petitions can only contain ‘related matters’. .

The proposals erroneously contained “at least two substantially distinct policy decisions,” Judge Scott L. Kafker wrote in the court’s 31-page ruling, “one of which is buried in obscure language at the end of the petitions.” These included the liability wording, as well as another provision regarding “the contractual and voluntary relationship between app-based drivers and network companies.” Kafker said state Attorney General Maura Healey erred in certifying petitions for the ballot.

Tech companies have already invested tens of millions of dollars in the ballot initiative. That includes a $13 million contribution from Lyft, which was the largest political donation in state history.

The court’s decision is the latest chapter in a struggle unfolding in other states to redefine the relationship between tech companies and workers. Employers like Uber and Lyft want their business models preserved by labeling workers as independent contractors. Unions and others are pushing to reclassify them as employees, which would give them the right to collective bargaining under federal law and provide them with minimum wage, overtime pay and other protections. income-related legal matters.

It was not immediately clear whether the industry-backed coalition Flexibility and Benefits for Drivers in Massachusetts planned to appeal the decision.

Coalition spokesman Conor Yunits quickly referred the matter to the state legislature.

“A clear majority of Massachusetts voters and rideshare and delivery drivers both supported and would have passed this ballot issue into law. This is exactly why opponents have resorted to lawsuits to subvert the democratic process and deprive voters of the right to make their own decision,” Yunits said in a statement.

“The future of these services and the drivers who earn from them is now in jeopardy,” he continued. “We hope the legislature will support the 80% of drivers who want flexibility and remain independent contractors while having access to new benefits.”

But state lawmakers had refused to touch the burning issue earlier in the voting process, despite a $2.1 million television ad campaign by Flexibility & Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers urging them to do so. They now have less than two months left in the legislative session to act, if they wish.

Massachusetts is not for sale – the counter-coalition to the industry-backed effort, which had filed several amicus briefs on the case in court – called in a statement to “stay vigilant” against “any new attempt by Big Tech to water down worker and consumer protections in Massachusetts or beyond.

Despite this warning, politicians, the state Democratic Party, unions and civil rights groups who had opposed the drive to make app-based drivers independent contractors were quick to celebrate the court’s death knell to the ballot issue — at least for this year.

Shannon Liss-Riordan, a candidate for attorney general and labor lawyer who was a founding board member of the opposition coalition Massachusetts Is Not For Sale, said the decision was a “victory for Massachusetts workers “.

“Big Tech cannot afford to treat its workers with dignity and respect,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, one of two Democrats running for governor. tweeted.

Meanwhile, a related lawsuit will move forward. Healey brought charges against Uber and Lyft in 2020 that the companies violated Massachusetts’ Independent Contractors Act, which includes an ABC test similar to that offered in California. The ABC tests require employers to meet three conditions before they can classify their workers as independent contractors.

“I respect the Court’s decision to exclude this initiative petition from the ballot,” Healey said in a statement. “As a matter of enforcement, I will continue our efforts to force Uber and Lyft to comply with Massachusetts labor laws and ensure rideshare drivers have the same rights as all other employees.”

The news from Massachusetts comes just months after Washington State became the first to pass legislation creating standards for gig workers – in particular, Uber and Lyft drivers.

There, the threat of a possible ballot initiative similar to California’s Proposition 22 gave urgency to the talks. California’s employer-backed measure, which cemented taxi drivers and other gig workers as independent contractors, is currently stalled in court amid opposition from unions and their allies.

Lyft told POLITICO in April that the Massachusetts ballot issue was a backup to corporate efforts to push a bill across the finish line.

“They’re similar to Washington State,” Lyft executive Jen Hensley said at the time. “We will continue to work on the legislative process for the rest of the session and remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement that works best for drivers.”

“If that’s not successful, we’re having an election campaign…so we can vote to provide those protections directly to drivers,” Hensley said.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in six Americans have made money using a gigging platform. Yet there’s no comprehensive federal law governing the business model — throwing the issue to the states, where businesses, unions and lawmakers must battle it out with varying degrees of success.

The Department of Labor recently announced this was the start of the rule-making process for the classification of independent contractors after a judge reinstated a Trump-era rule on the issue that makes it easier for businesses to classify their workers as independent contractors through a test of “economic realities” analyzing the degree of control workers have over their tasks and their opportunities for profit or loss.

Washington’s law provides drivers with paid sick leave and workers’ compensation while keeping them classified as independent contractors rather than employees. It also establishes a minimum rate of $3 per trip, $1.17 per mile and $0.34 per minute.

One of the local union officials who worked on the Washington state bill, Brenda Wiest of Teamsters 117, said she might consider a similar compromise in Massachusetts given that “there is down a vibrant labor movement. More than 12% of Massachusetts workers were unionized in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — more than the national average of 10.3%.

“You can’t do it if the drivers aren’t in the lead,” Wiest said. “If you lead the charge and no one follows you, there’s nothing to be gained, is there?” »

One catch: National unions oppose the Washington State model, which—because it doesn’t classify workers as employees—does not give them the right to collective bargaining.

“The Washington state model is not the model for the rest of the country to follow,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. Other proposals would do a better job “allowing protections for workers but without compromising the fundamental principles of worker classification.”

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