The Next Battleground for Gig Worker Labor Laws: Massachusetts

Less than two years after the fierce election battle in California, gig companies such as Uber and Lift are once again clashing with labor groups, politicians and the courts in Massachusetts over ballot criteria that would maintain independent driver status for companies.

The Massachusetts proposal would guarantee workers a minimum wage but would limit their access to other benefits offered to regular employees, such as the voting criteria in California. And like California, state judges can thwart a multimillion-dollar campaign run by gig companies.

A Massachusetts court has questioned whether the gig-work proposal violates state law, and it is likely that the November poll measure will be thrown out this summer.

Conflict erupts as state politicians in Massachusetts and other states step up pressure on ride-hailing and food-delivery companies as Gig calls for a comprehensive reassessment of whether the economy exploits those working in it.

On Wednesday, five U.S. senators and three members of the House, including many from Massachusetts, sent letters to various gig companies, in which lawmakers criticized their practice of incorrectly classifying employees as independent contractors. Lawmakers are also demanding that companies publish detailed reports describing the risks that drivers face, with advocacy group Gig Workers Rising reporting that at least 50 jobs have been lost in the last five years.

Uber and Lift have released reports of attacks on their platforms and other serious incidents, but lawmakers, who are seeking a response by June 22, are calling for more details, as well as companies like DoorDash. . They also wrote that they wanted information on whether the gig companies had compensated the drivers they attacked or helped their families with funeral services and other expenses.

Lawmakers said the lack of safety for drivers and the status of their independent contractors were relevant.

Ayanna Presley, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said, “Drivers are only at greater risk because they have lower salaries, lower wages, which forces them to work longer hours and accept more rides even when they feel unsafe.” Pushes, “an interview.

In a statement, a DoorDash spokesperson said the letter contained “misleading and inaccurate claims”. Instacart said it was “closely reviewing” the letter and would respond. Both companies, as well as Lift, said they are committed to keeping their drivers safe.

Gig companies spent $ 200 million to classify their drivers as independent contractors in California. The conflict began in 2019 when California passed a law allowing companies like Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers like employees. The state’s attorney general later sued Gig companies for enforcing it, and they responded by threatening to leave the state.

The 2020 poll criteria, Proposition 22, passed with about 59 percent of the vote, meaning Gig drivers would be independent contractors. But last year, a California judge threw out the new law. That case appeal is pending.

Ms. Presley argued that the Massachusetts ballet measure was a way for gig companies to save money by avoiding giving their drivers more money and benefits like health coverage. “All of this is ultimately about prioritizing people over profit,” she said.

Proponents of the poll say it would instead ensure that workers receive a fair minimum wage and some benefits while retaining the ability to select drivers while they work. Under the proposal, drivers would actively charge a minimum of $ 18 per hour when delivering food or ferrying passengers.

It will also offer limited benefits, such as per-mile fees for vehicle expenses, accident insurance, paid sick time and health care stipend for workers who have been driving for a few hours. Gig companies do not have to pay unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, paid time off or any other health care payment.

Connor Units, which is leading the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, is campaigning in support of the ballot measure, saying many drivers do not want to be classified as employees because it would limit their ability to set their own hours.

“It’s about their lives, about flexibility, about their ability to be bosses, about setting their own schedules,” Mr. said. Units, Senior Vice President of Issue Management Group. “The fact is that the drivers support this. Ultimately, we believe voters will support this.

Opponents of the ballot measure note that drivers will be compensated at that rate only when completing work and not while waiting for their next morning. Given that delay time, one study estimates that drivers can earn only $ 5 to $ 7 per hour. (Mr. Units called the study “pure campaign propaganda.”)

Opponents also say drivers must already be receiving benefits offered to employees. In 2020, Maura Haley, Massachusetts Attorney General, sued Uber and Lift to force them to identify their drivers as employees under state law. That lawsuit is pending in court.

If the ballot measure overcomes opposition from leading unions and politicians in Massachusetts, a staunch pro-labor state, it could encourage gig companies to continue a state-by-state approach to codifying their rules for drivers.

“We are preparing for the fight,” said Wes McKenzie, who heads Massachusetts Is Not For Sale, a campaign to oppose the proposal.

The discussion may soon become tangible. In May, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments from a group claiming to block ballot measurements, and expressed concern that gig companies were trying to rob voters of their past unrelated rule.

A section of the proposed ballot measurement states that drivers are not “employees or agents” of gig companies. Opponents of the measure say companies like Uber are trying to make sure they are not held accountable for their drivers’ actions in accidents or crimes.

Under state law, if a court finds that a section of the measure is unrelated to the rest of it – as it suggested during a hearing in May – it can throw out a voting proposal.

Associate Judge Scott Kafkar said during the hearing, “Voters may differ completely on whether a gig worker should have all these benefits, whether they can sue the company in the event of an accident or rape.” ” “Those are very different issues, aren’t they?”

Defending the ballot measure, the prosecutor argued that those issues were and were related to the worker’s relationship with both companies.

The court’s decision is expected in late June or early July. It is also possible that the state legislature will pass legislation similar to the voting criteria in the coming months, making voting unnecessary in November, although that possibility seems unlikely.

Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart raised 17.8 million last year to support the ballot measure, according to the State Campaign and Political Finance Office, which has not released total figures for 2022. Most of that was a $ 13 million lift contribution in December, which appears to be the largest single political contribution in Massachusetts history.

Massachusetts Is Not For Sale raised less than $ 1 million last year. The group said it had learned from the California battle that voters could be confused by the subtleties of complex voting criteria about independent contractors, so a major focus of the campaign would be arguing that big tech companies were trying to rewrite state laws.

“California had to go first and get caught on slightly flat feet,” Mr. McKenna said. “I think we have the vision behind it, seeing California and being able to see it coming, we were able to form an alliance a long time ago.”

Gig companies say they also have drivers by their side. The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Action cites a survey of about 400 Massachusetts drivers this year, paid for by gig companies, with 81 percent endorsing the ballot measure.

The surveyed drivers were told that the yes vote would classify the drivers as independent contractors instead of employees and provide new benefits and maintain the no vote status quo.

Opponents say drivers are misled, and if they are classified as employees, they can both maintain flexible schedules and receive higher salaries and benefits.

Democrat Senator Edward J. of Massachusetts. “This half-measure is not enough,” said Markey, who signed letters to gig companies about workers’ safety. “The answer is to classify these workers as employees and pay them living wages and give them real benefits.”

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