The Next Battleground for Gig Worker Labor Laws: Massachusetts

Lower than two years after a fierce election battle in California, gig firms like Uber and Lyft are once more colliding with labor teams, politicians and the courts over a poll measure in Massachusetts that might protect the unbiased standing of drivers for the businesses.

The Massachusetts proposition would assure staff a minimal wage however restrict their entry to different advantages provided to common staff, much like the poll measure in California. And as in California, state judges may thwart the multimillion-dollar marketing campaign being waged by gig firms.

A Massachusetts court docket has questioned whether or not the gig-work proposition violates state legislation, and there’s a likelihood the November poll measure might be thrown out this summer time.

The battle comes as state politicians from Massachusetts and different states ratchet up the stress on ride-hailing and food-delivery firms whereas calling for a broader reassessment of whether or not the gig financial system exploits those that work in it.

On Wednesday, 5 U.S. senators and three members of the Home, together with a number of from Massachusetts, despatched letters to various gig companies, criticizing them for what the lawmakers say is their observe of misclassifying staff as unbiased contractors. The lawmakers are additionally demanding that the businesses launch detailed stories describing the hazards that drivers face after a report from Gig Employees Rising, an advocacy group, discovered that not less than 50 have been killed on the job within the final 5 years.

Uber and Lyft have every launched stories on assaults and different severe incidents that occurred on their platforms, however the lawmakers, who’re asking for a response by June 22, are calling for extra particulars, in addition to for firms like DoorDash to do the identical. In addition they wrote that they needed details about whether or not the gig firms compensated drivers who had been attacked or helped their households with funeral companies and different prices.

Lawmakers stated a scarcity of security for drivers and their unbiased contractor standing had been associated.

“Drivers are solely put at higher danger as a result of they’ve low pay, low wages, that pushes them to work longer hours and that pushes them to simply accept extra rides, even after they really feel unsafe,” Consultant Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, stated in an interview.

In an announcement, a DoorDash spokeswoman stated the letter made “deceptive and inaccurate claims.” Instacart stated it was “carefully reviewing” the letter and would reply. Each firms, in addition to Lyft, stated they had been dedicated to protecting their drivers secure.

Gig firms spent $200 million combating for his or her drivers to be labeled as unbiased contractors in California. The battle began in 2019 when California handed a legislation requiring firms like Uber and Lyft to deal with their drivers as staff. The state’s lawyer basic later sued the gig firms to implement it, they usually responded by threatening to go away the state.

The 2020 poll measure, Proposition 22, handed with about 59 p.c of the vote, which means gig drivers would stay unbiased contractors. However final yr, a California decide threw out the brand new legislation. That case is pending an attraction.

Ms. Pressley argued that the Massachusetts poll measure was a approach for gig firms to economize by avoiding giving their drivers extra money and advantages like well being protection. “All of that is finally a prioritization about revenue over folks,” she stated.

Proponents of the poll measure say it could as a substitute make sure that staff obtained a good minimal wage and a few advantages whereas sustaining drivers’ means to decide on after they labored. Underneath the proposal, the drivers would make not less than $18 per hour whereas actively delivering meals or ferrying passengers.

It could additionally give restricted advantages, like a per-mile price for car prices, accident insurance coverage, paid sick time and well being care stipends for staff who spent a sure variety of hours driving. Gig firms wouldn’t have to offer unemployment insurance coverage, staff’ compensation, paid break day or every other well being care funds.

Conor Yunits, who’s main the Massachusetts Coalition for Unbiased Work, the marketing campaign in assist of the poll measure, stated many drivers didn’t wish to be labeled as staff as a result of that might restrict their means to set their very own hours.

“It’s about their lives, about having flexibility, the power to be their very own bosses, set their very own schedules,” stated Mr. Yunits, senior vp at Points Administration Group. “The very fact is, drivers assist this. Finally, we consider voters will assist this.”

Opponents of the poll measure observe that drivers can be compensated at that charge solely whereas finishing a process and never whereas ready for his or her subsequent rider. Factoring in that lag time, one study has estimated drivers may make solely $5 to $7 per hour. (Mr. Yunits known as the research “pure marketing campaign propaganda.”)

Opponents additionally say drivers ought to already be receiving advantages given to staff. In 2020, Maura Healey, Massachusetts’ lawyer basic, sued Uber and Lyft in an effort to drive them to acknowledge their drivers are staff underneath state legislation. That lawsuit is pending in court docket.

If the poll measure overcomes opposition from distinguished unions and politicians in Massachusetts, a staunchly pro-labor state, it may embolden the gig firms to proceed their state-by-state strategy to codifying their guidelines for drivers.

“We’re gearing up for the battle,” stated Wes McEnany, who leads Massachusetts Is Not for Sale, a marketing campaign opposing the proposal.

The talk may quickly be moot. In Could, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Courtroom heard arguments from a bunch suing to cease the poll measure, and expressed considerations that the gig firms had been attempting to sneak a seemingly unrelated rule previous voters.

A bit of the proposed poll measure says drivers are “not an worker or agent” of the gig firms. The measure’s opponents say meaning firms like Uber are attempting to make sure they can’t be held chargeable for the actions of their drivers in accidents or crimes.

Underneath state legislation, if the court docket finds that one part of the measure is unrelated to the remainder of it — because it indicated it’d in the course of the listening to in Could — it may possibly throw out the poll proposal.

Voters “could have completely completely different views about whether or not a gig employee ought to have all these advantages versus whether or not they can sue the corporate if there’s an accident or a rape,” Decide Scott Kafker, an affiliate justice, stated in the course of the listening to. “These are very completely different points, aren’t they?”

A lawyer defending the poll measure argued that these points each involved a employee’s relationship with an organization and had been associated.

A court docket choice is anticipated in late June or early July. It’s additionally potential that the State Legislature may cross a legislation much like the poll measure within the coming months, making a vote in November pointless, although that prospect seems unlikely.

If the court docket permits the poll measure to be put to voters, the proponents may have some benefits. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart raised $17.8 million to again the poll measure final yr, in line with the state’s Workplace of Marketing campaign and Political Finance, which hasn’t launched totals for 2022. Most of that was a $13 million Lyft contribution in December, which seems to be the largest single political contribution in Massachusetts history.

Massachusetts Is Not for Sale raised lower than $1 million final yr. The group stated it had discovered from the California battle that voters might be confused by the trivialities of a sophisticated poll measure about unbiased contractors, so a giant focus of the marketing campaign will likely be arguing that massive tech firms are attempting to rewrite state legal guidelines.

“California needed to go first and received caught a bit flat-footed,” Mr. McEnany stated. “I believe we now have the hindsight, taking a look at California and having the ability to see it coming, we had been in a position to construct a coalition rather a lot earlier.”

Gig firms say additionally they have drivers on their aspect. The Massachusetts Coalition for Unbiased Work cites a survey of about 400 Massachusetts drivers this yr, paid for by the gig firms, by which 81 p.c backed the poll measure.

The surveyed drivers had been instructed {that a} sure vote would classify drivers as unbiased contractors, slightly than staff, and supply new advantages, and {that a} no vote would preserve the established order.

Opponents say that drivers are being misled, and that they may each preserve versatile schedules and obtain larger pay and advantages in the event that they had been labeled as staff.

“This half-measure shouldn’t be sufficient,” stated Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, who signed the letters to gig firms about employee security. “The reply is to categorise these staff as staff and pay them a dwelling wage and provides them actual advantages.”

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