Massachusetts Court Throws Out Gig Worker Ballot Measure

A Massachusetts court docket dominated on Tuesday {that a} proposed poll measure regarding the job standing of gig drivers violated state legislation and was not eligible to be put to voters this fall.

The measure, which was backed by firms like Uber and Lyft, would have labeled gig drivers as unbiased contractors somewhat than workers, a longtime aim of the businesses. The ruling successfully ended a $17.8 million marketing campaign by the gig firms to assist the initiative.

The poll measure contained two “substantively distinct coverage choices, considered one of which is buried in obscure language” violating the state structure, which requires all components of a poll measure to be associated, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Courtroom wrote in its ruling.

The court docket took problem with a provision of the measure that stated drivers had been “not an worker or agent” of a gig firm, as a result of it seemed to be an try and defend Uber and Lyft from legal responsibility within the case of an accident or a criminal offense. That provision was unrelated to the remainder of the proposal, which was about the advantages drivers would or wouldn’t obtain as unbiased contractors, in response to the seven-judge panel. The measure would have given drivers some restricted advantages however absolved the businesses of the necessity to pay them for full well being care advantages, day without work or different worker advantages.

“Petitions that bury separate coverage choices in obscure language heighten issues that voters can be confused, misled and disadvantaged of a significant selection,” the court docket wrote.

For years, gig firms and labor rights teams have argued over the best way to classify drivers: Ought to they be workers, with full labor protections and advantages? Or ought to they be unbiased contractors, chargeable for their very own bills and, as firms have contended, afforded better freedom and suppleness to work the hours they need?

Because it has appeared unlikely that the federal authorities will settle the query, Uber and Lyft have launched into a state-by-state march to lock of their drivers’ labor statuses.

The marketing campaign on the a part of gig firms to lock of their drivers’ labor standing in Massachusetts was just like an effort in California two years in the past. In 2020, the businesses efficiently persuaded California voters to move Proposition 22, a poll measure that enshrined drivers’ unbiased contractor standing; it was later overturned by a choose. The next yr they tried to strike a labor cut price in New York, and this yr they cast an analogous settlement with legislators in Washington state, stopping drivers from being labeled as workers.

However the firms’ defeat in Massachusetts, a staunchly pro-labor and pro-union state, exhibits the bounds of the technique, stated Terri Gerstein, a staff rights lawyer at Harvard Regulation Faculty’s Labor and Worklife Program.

“Policymakers ought to take note of the truth that gig firms’ march towards a future with degraded employee protections shouldn’t be inevitable,” Ms. Gerstein stated.

Opponents of the Massachusetts poll measure welcomed the court docket’s ruling.

“Tens of millions of Massachusetts drivers, passengers and taxpayers can relaxation simpler understanding that this unconstitutional bid by Large Tech C.E.O.s to control Massachusetts legislation has been struck down by the Supreme Judicial Courtroom,” Wes McEnany, who leads Massachusetts Is Not for Sale, wrote in an e-mail. “The poll query was written not solely as an try to cut back the rights of drivers, but additionally would have put the rights of passengers and the general public in danger.”

Uber and Lyft declined to remark, however the group driving the measure expressed disappointment and argued that it might have had large assist within the fall.

“A transparent majority of Massachusetts voters and rideshare and supply drivers each supported and would have handed this poll query into legislation,” Conor Yunits, who’s main the Massachusetts Coalition for Unbiased Work, stated in an announcement.

The group hoped the state’s legislature would nonetheless take motion on drivers’ job statuses earlier than the tip of the summer season. “We hope the legislature will stand with the 80 % of drivers who need flexibility and to stay unbiased contractors whereas accessing new advantages,” Mr. Yunits wrote.

A survey of about 400 Massachusetts drivers this yr, paid for by the gig firms, discovered that 81 % backed the poll measure. However critics have argued that drivers had been being offered with a false selection between flexibility and advantages, when being labeled as workers may give them each.

“The businesses have already spent thousands and thousands attempting to idiot drivers and voters into accepting this deceitful proposal,” Steve Tolman, the president of the Massachusetts A.F.L.-C.I.O., stated in an announcement.

The labor battle in Massachusetts started in 2020, when the state’s lawyer basic, Maura Healey, sued Uber and Lyft, arguing that they had been misclassifying their staff by treating them as unbiased contractors somewhat than workers. That lawsuit is pending in court docket.

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart responded with the poll measure, which stood a good probability of passing had it made it to voters, if the California initiative was any indication.

However their plans started to unravel when a gaggle of labor activists filed a complaint in January, arguing that the poll measure shouldn’t be allowed to proceed due to the clause associated to gig firms’ legal responsibility.

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts justices’ ruling made it clear that Uber and Lyft, by attempting to move an formidable and sweeping legislation, had overreached.

“Gig firms wrote a very lengthy poll initiative designed to confuse individuals, in an effort to keep away from accountability for every thing — from employer obligations to taking good care of passengers when accidents occur,” Ms. Gerstein stated.

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