A coalition of gig economy companies that includes Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart said on Wednesday that it had filed a ballot proposal in Massachusetts that could create a new class of workers in the commonwealth. If the coalition is successful, Massachusetts voters will decide next year whether gig workers should be considered independent contractors.
The employment classification of gig workers has been the subject of legal battles in several states. Labor activists argue that companies like Uber do not pay fair wages to their workers and shortchange them on expenses, health care and unemployment benefits. The companies say their workers enjoy too much flexibility to be considered employees. Last year, Massachusetts sued Uber and Lyft, claiming they misclassified drivers as independent contractors. That litigation is ongoing.
The group of gig companies, called the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, proposes exempting gig workers from being classified as employees but offering them some limited benefits, including minimum pay of $18 per hour spent transporting a rider or delivering food.
“This is the best of both worlds,” Pam Bennett, a DoorDash courier, said in a statement provided by the coalition. “This measure will help every driver by preserving our ability to work whenever and however we want, and also give us access to brand-new benefits that will really help.”
The ballot proposal mirrors an initiative that the companies proposed last year in California. The companies poured $200 million into the California ballot initiative, making it the most expensive effort in state history, and ultimately prevailed in exempting their workers from a California law that would have effectively classified them as employees.
“They are going to try to get this ballot measure by deceiving the public into thinking that this is somehow for the benefit of the workers,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney who represents gig workers in Massachusetts. “It’s going to take away their responsibilities under Massachusetts law and substitute these fake benefits.”
The effort in Massachusetts comes as Uber and other companies that rely on gig workers face increased scrutiny from the Biden administration, which earlier this year rolled back a Trump-era rule that would likely have classified gig workers as independent contractors.