BOSTON (SHNS) – Engaged in a political battle pitting workers’ independence against guaranteed wages and benefits, some drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft said Tuesday that the loss of flexibility that could come from losing their independent contractor status would be “devastating” to their lives.

The employment status of drivers for popular app-based ride sharing and delivery services has taken center stage in Massachusetts where Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash are spending millions to ensure that they can continue to classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Lyft, alone, gave $14 million last year to the committee pushing a 2022 ballot initiative in Massachusetts.

The ballot question championed by the companies would allow them to continue to classify drivers as independent contractors, while also setting a wage floor for the time drivers are actively engaged with a customer and giving them access to benefits like paid family and medical leave and accrued sick time.

“It removes the chain. It give me my 40 acres. I said it. I said it,” said Tony Branch, who has driven with Lyft out of Brockton since 2016, referencing the Civil War-era promise made to freed slaves of “forty acres and a mule.”

Branch was one of four drivers of color assembled by the Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers committee to share their reasons for supporting the ballot questions and opposing efforts by Attorney General Maura Healey to force Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees.

“Did they ask Black and brown folks what they wanted before she filed that lawsuit?” Branch asked, saying it would be “devastating” to him if he lost the flexibility he currently enjoys.

Healey sued Uber and Lyft in 2020, alleging that the companies were denying drivers a guaranteed minimum wage, paid sick leave, workers’ compensation and traditional unemployment insurance that they would gain if they were deemed to be employees.

While drivers like Branch said they value their independence, not everyone who works for the tech companies agrees that they have to choose between flexibility and employment protections.

The Massachusetts Independent Drivers Guild launched an ad campaign this week in support of legislation (S 1224/H 1953) that would allow thousands of drivers for app-based rideshare companies to collectively bargain over working conditions and benefits.

With the backing of unions like the AFL-CIO of Massachusetts, the group is also fighting the ballot campaign that would deny them the chance to become full-time employees and access the benefits that come with that status.

“Uber and Lyft have spent hundreds of millions of dollars across the country to stop rideshare drivers like me from having a voice in our pay and working conditions. The impact this has had on rideshare drivers has been devastating. Tens of thousands of drivers are living in poverty across our state right now. To the Massachusetts legislature: our future is in your hands. Please, don’t leave us behind,” said Cletus Awah, a ridershare driver based out of Lynn, in a video recorded for the ad campaign.

Uber, Lyft and other technology companies say that the flexibility their platforms offer drivers to choose their own schedules and how many hours to work is at risk if the ballot question fails and they lose the lawsuit brought by Healey.

Eilakeisha Spencer, a Dorchester resident who has worked for Lyft and Uber over the past five years, said the freedom that came with being able to choose when to drive allowed her to care for her daughter and put herself through grad school.

“It’s become very convenient for me,” said Spencer, who said she now drives to supplement her income from her full-time job as a clinician, through which she accesses health insurance.

Charles Clemons said he lives in Grove Hall and has driven for both Uber and Lyft for six years.

“In light of Black history month, we are not slaves,” Clemons said. “It’s very important to be able to pick and choose when you’re able to work, when your able to provide means for your family and when you’re able to serve your community.”

While the drivers acknowledged that they would appreciate additional employment benefits, they questioned the wisdom of changing something that’s working for them in their lives, and noted that the ballot question would offer some additional perks and wage guarantees.

“Yes, it would be nice, but it’s not our job to tell them what to do,” said Apryl Scott, a driver for DoorDash from South Attleboro.

“I’m not even sure why we can’t have the best of both worlds,” Scott added.

Supporters say there is no industry model for workers to be treated as full-time employees and also enjoy the flexibility that comes with being an independent contractor. The drivers say they worry the companies could exert influence over the times they work if they lose their contractor status.

Branch said every driver for Uber and Lyft made the choice to download the app and work for those companies as independent contractors because it offered them a flexible way to earn an income.

“This has given us the empowerment to be small business, and we appreciate you not touching that,” Branch said.