Workers at center of new gig economy ballot question

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS/WWLP) – A coalition of gig economy power players and business group allies plans Tuesday to unveil a proposed 2022 ballot question that would keep app-based drivers classified as independent contractors, a practice the attorney general has challenged, while extending them some additional benefits.

One day ahead of the deadline to file the necessary paperwork, the industry-backed Coalition for Independent Work hosted an 11 a.m. event outside the State House to introduce the initiative petition that could kick off intense debate and robust political spending over the next year. The text of the proposal was not immediately available Tuesday morning, but the coalition — funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart — said it would “grant historic new benefits for drivers in the Commonwealth while allowing them to maintain their independence.” The group previously endorsed a bill by Braintree Rep. Mark Cusack and Springfield Rep. Carlos Gonzalez (H 1234).

Supporters also gathered at Springfield City Hall Tuesday morning. Proponents believe gig workers should be entitled to the same benefits as employees, while still maintaining the flexibility that comes with app-based labor.

“I need to be able to stop when I need to, because I’m disabled, I have a bad back. I need to stop if I need to, if I have an emergency, if I have to run home, if I have to sit down, if I have to take a nap,” said Tammy Harrington who is a DoorDash driver.

That legislation would update state law to define app-based drivers as independent contractors while creating “portable benefit accounts” for the workers that they could use toward retirement or health insurance in the individual market. Opponents of the ballot question, including organized labor and civil rights leaders, plan their own virtual event at 1 p.m. Tuesday to criticize the proposal, which they say would “allow tech giants to pay workers less than minimum wage, make no contributions to unemployment or Social Security, and remove app-based workers from legal protections against workplace injuries, sexual harassment, and discrimination.”

Attorney General Maura Healey sued Uber and Lyft last year, alleging that the companies violate the state’s wage and hour laws by classifying drivers as independent contractors rather than employees who could access certain protections and benefits. That case remains pending while the ballot question campaign takes shape.

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