Massachusetts court rejects proposed gig worker ballot measure

Uber and Lyft were championing the concept.

Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The New York Times reports Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court has rejected a proposed ballot measure that would have enshrined Uber and Lyft's business model in law. The court said the measure violated the Massachusetts constitution by including two unrelated policy decisions, including one hidden by "obscure language."

The bulk of the proposed ballot measure outlined limited benefits for rideshare drivers. However, the offending provision would have said that drivers couldn't be treated as an "employee or agent" of gig-based companies. If voted into law, this might have shielded outfits like Uber or Lyft from liability in the event of a crash or crime — not to mention kneecapping any attempts to reclassify drivers as employees in the state. The unrelated provisions raised concerns that voters might be "confused, misled and deprived" of a real choice, the court wrote in its decision.

Uber, Lyft and their supporters contended that formalizing the gig worker model would have protected flexibility for drivers seeking their own hours. Groups supporting the companies, such as Chamber of Progress, have claimed employee status could cost jobs and income. Critics like AFL-CIO union federation, however, have argued that measures like this create a false dichotomy between flexibility and benefits — they see ballot options like this as attempts to cut employment costs at the expense of laborers.

Uber and Lyft declined to comment. The two spent a total of $17.8 million endorsing the ballot measure, and have had mixed success promoting similar efforts in other states. They got Californians to vote for Proposition 22, a bid to reverse a state law protecting drivers as employees, only to watch as a judge ruled the measure unconstitutional. The companies struck an agreement with Washington State legislators in early 2022, but failed to get much traction in New York State.

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