It’s nearly been a year since Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates wrote Proposition 22—a ballot measure that exempted them from following California labor laws—and spent $220 million on a deceptive campaign to pass it. Now, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart have filed another Proposition 22-esque ballot measure aimed at exempting them from following US labor laws, this time in Massachusetts.
This is not the first attempt in the state to introduce another set of carve outs for gig companies. In March, drivers helped kill a bill introduced in the state house that would've provided portable benefits, essentially a financial account that companies and drivers can contribute to.
"It's a massive restriction of drivers' rights disguised within the shell of some insignificant portable benefits," said Henry De Groot, executive director of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild (BIDG), at the time. "The same thing happened with Prop 22—obviously the companies can't go to the public and explicitly say 'we want to take drivers rights away.' They have to include some handout, but look at California: UC Berkeley found that the California wage guarantee was worth $5.54."
The new ballot measure, put forward by the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work—an organization registered and run by Uber and Lyft executives—offers a proposal similar to the failed Massachusetts state house bill and Prop 22: accounts that workers and companies contribute to for healthcare, a seemingly permanent preservation of gig worker misclassification as independent contractors, and a minimum wage—but only for time with a passenger or delivery item, meaning approximately one-third of a drivers' time could go unpaid.
Uber did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment. Lyft referred Motherboard to the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, which sent over a press release claiming that the ballot measure—if passed—would "grant historic new benefits for app-based rideshare and delivery drivers in the Commonwealth while allowing them to maintain their flexibility as independent contractors."
Ahead of the ballot measure's filing on Wednesday, the Coalition to Protect Workers' Rights—composed of driver advocacy and civil rights groups—held a press conference condemning the new campaign, which is expected to spend at least $100 million by the group.
“The ballot language from Uber and Lyft is a $100 million ploy to avoid paying taxes, avoid paying workers fairly, and allow Big Tech companies to buy their way out of the basic obligations of every other business,” said Beth Griffith, an Uber driver and spokesperson for the Coalition. “Drivers and delivery workers, most of us Black, Brown and immigrants, are tired of being treated like ‘second class’ workers by these multibillion dollar tech companies. When we ask these companies to simply follow the law, they threaten our jobs.”
At the same time as all this, Uber and Lyft are currently facing threats on new fronts since victory in California. In Massachusetts, the Attorney General's Office is suing the companies for intentionally misclassifying their workers as contractors to avoid complying with US labor law and substantially minimize labor costs. In Connecticut and New York, similar measures have been shot down in state legislatures while there’s been no news of efforts in Illinois since last year.
In D.C, the Department of Labor has signaled it could crack down on the exploitation of legal loopholes that have allowed the gig economy to thrive in the first place: Biden has appointed a Secretary of Labor, brought on NLRB staff, and nominated key officials to the department that could strike down precedent protecting gig companies.