Labor, industry gear up for dueling Massachusetts gig worker ballot measures

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) -An industry-backed group and a labor union on Wednesday proposed letting voters decide whether Uber Technologies and Lyft ride-share drivers in Massachusetts should be treated as independent contractors or allowed to unionize.

Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers, a group whose contributors include Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, filed a proposed ballot question that would ask voters in November 2024 to declare the companies’ drivers are not employees but independent contractors entitled to minimum benefits.

The proposal would establish an earnings floor equal to 120% of the state’s minimum wage for app-based drivers, or $18 an hour in 2023 before tips. Drivers would also receive healthcare stipends, occupational accident insurance and paid sick time.

Labor activists fighting that proposal include a union, SEIU Local 32BJ, that filed a competing ballot initiative on Wednesday seeking to allow drivers to unionize and bargain working conditions and compensation collectively.

“The best antidote to unchecked corporate greed and rising inequality is building worker power through a union,” Roxana Rivera, the head of the union in Massachusetts, said in a statement.

The industry-backed proposal mirrors an earlier 2022 ballot measure that Massachusetts’ top court blocked from going forward, saying it went too far by including an unrelated proposal to limit the companies’ liability for accidents by their drivers.

The ballot measure’s supporters say that to address the “technical questions” the court raised, its backers submitted multiple options with the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell, a Democrat who must certify whether the proposed question meets state constitutional requirements.

Campbell’s office said it would decide whether to certify the petitions by Sept. 6. The measures’ proponents would then need to gather thousands of signatures to secure their placement on the ballot.

The industry-backed proposal follows a similar 2020 measure in California, where the companies persuaded state voters to solidify ride-hail and food delivery workers’ status as independent contractors with some benefits.

A California judge 2021 ruled that the measure, Proposition 22, violated the state’s constitution. But a state appeals court in March revived the measure.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by David Gregorio and Jamie Freed)