Last year, Californians voted in favor of a ballot measure exempting Uber (UBER), Lyft (LYFT), DoorDash, and Instacart from having to classify drivers and delivery workers as employees. Companies are now in the early stages of implementing a similar strategy in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, which represents these gig companies, filed a petition on Wednesday to have a question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would “grant historic new benefits” and allow workers to “maintain their flexibility as independent contractors,” which it claims most drivers want.
“Without the ballot measure or a legislative solution, the future of app-based rideshare and delivery could be in jeopardy,” the coalition said, in language reminiscent of how dire the issue was positioned to Californians.
The opposition, however, is on the offensive this time against the playbook it believes was used last time, thanks to the benefit of seeing how things played out in California. The Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights, a coalition of labor and community organizations, argued this week that the Massachusetts bill would “permanently create a’second class’ status” for the workers, noting that the majority of them are Black, Brown, and immigrants.
The classification of on-demand workers as employees has long been seen as a potential existential threat to the Uber and Lyft business models. Companies have grown their businesses by hiring large fleets of workers who are treated as independent contractors, avoiding the cost of providing employee benefits like minimum wage, overtime, paid sick leave, and unemployment insurance.
Companies have also demonstrated that they are willing to go to great lengths to obtain a more favorable law. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart spent a combined $225 million on a ballot measure known as Proposition 22 or Prop 22 to effectively sidestep a new labor law in California, Assembly Bill 5, that made it much harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors in the state.
They used a multi-pronged approach to reach Californians, including television ads, in-app messages, and perplexing mailers. Prop 22 allows businesses to classify workers as independent contractors while providing some benefits concessions, but not the full suite of protections that they would have received if the measure had not passed and they were classified as employees.