On Wednesday, a coalition of gig economy companies led by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart announced the filing of a ballot proposal in Massachusetts that would create a new class of workers in the state. If the coalition is successful, Massachusetts voters will decide whether gig workers should be classified as independent contractors next year.
Gig workers’ employment classification has been the subject of legal battles in several states. Labor activists claim that companies such as Uber do not pay their employees a living wage and underpay them for expenses, health care, and unemployment benefits. According to the companies, their employees have too much freedom to be considered employees. Massachusetts sued Uber and Lyft last year, alleging that they misclassified drivers as independent contractors. This case is still being litigated.
The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, a group of gig companies, proposes exempting gig workers from being classified as employees while providing them with some limited benefits, such as a minimum wage of $18 per hour spent transporting a rider or delivering food.
“This is the best of both worlds,” said Pam Bennett, a DoorDash courier, in a coalition statement. “This measure will benefit every driver by preserving our ability to work whenever and however we want, as well as providing us with access to brand-new benefits that will be extremely beneficial.”
The ballot initiative is similar to one proposed by the companies in California last year. The companies spent $200 million on the California ballot initiative, making it the most expensive effort in state history, and eventually prevailed in exempting their employees from a California law that would have effectively classified them as employees.
“They are going to try to get this on the ballot by tricking the public into thinking it is for the benefit of the workers,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labour attorney who represents gig workers in Massachusetts. “It will take away their responsibilities under Massachusetts law and replace them with these phoney benefits.”
The Massachusetts effort comes at a time when Uber and other companies that rely on gig workers are facing increased scrutiny from the Biden administration, which earlier this year reversed a Trump-era rule that would have likely classified gig workers as independent contractors.