Gig firms seek Mass. ballot measure classifying workers as contractors

Gig firms seek Mass. ballot measure classifying workers as contractors
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A coalition of gig economy companies including Uber, Lyft and Doordash is looking to replicate its success in California by seeking a ballot measure in Massachusetts that would define their workers as independent contractors.

The proposal from the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work is expected to be filed Wednesday and would give drivers for the ride-hailing and delivery apps some perks including guaranteed pay and health care stipends but would also lock them out of full employment status.

The ballot measure comes as Uber and Lyft face a lawsuit from the Massachusetts attorney general attempting to compel the companies to comply with state law that would reclassify drivers as employees with rights like a minimum wage and the right to organize.

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Gig companies have said that reclassifying their drivers as employees would make it too expensive for their businesses to keep operating.

The companies also insist that reclassification would rob the workers of flexibility, an argument Lyft made in an email to drivers in Massachusetts on Tuesday morning reviewed by The Hill. It was unclear how full employment status would preclude flexibility.

Once the ballot measure is proposed it will face a legal review. If the review is passed and its backers collect enough signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2022 ballot.

The proposal faces opposition from labor and civil rights groups that formed a coalition earlier this summer against any measure similar to Proposition 22, the ballot measure backed by gig companies in California.

The same companies involved in the Massachusetts push ran a $200 million campaign in the fall to exempt gig workers from a California employment status test.

While the California ballot measure gave workers perks, drivers in the state have struggled to access their promised health care benefits and reported falling pay.

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The opposition group — dubbed the Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights — hosted a press event Tuesday committing to fight the new measure. 

“This exploitation and Uber, Lyft and the gig economy’s way of trying to create a sub-class of workers,” said Beth Griffith, an Uber driver.

Proposition 22 passed by an overwhelming majority in California, but members of the coalition in Massachusetts said Tuesday that they are better prepared this time.

“We're going to be speaking about this often, and we are relying on every method we can to get the word out so that Massachusetts voters won't be fooled,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney and member of the coalition.