The top court in Massachusetts blocked a ballot measure Tuesday that would have asked voters to classify gig workers as independent contractors rather than employees, saying the measure overreached by limiting gig companies’ liability in some situations.
The decision is a setback for companies such as
Uber Technologies Inc.
that rely on such workers. After a decade of robust growth, ride-share and food-delivery companies have spent recent years reckoning with efforts by policy makers and labor advocates to reclassify drivers as employees—entitled to benefits such as a minimum wage, paid sick leave and unemployment assistance.
The proposed measure included provisions that would have shielded companies that rely on gig labor from liability in potential lawsuits tied to assaults or traffic accidents, Associate Justice Scott Kafker of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts said in a ruling. Those measures were unrelated to the benefits and compensation being proposed, the justice wrote.
Uber and Lyft declined to comment, referring to a statement from Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers, an industry group that pushed for the ballot measure.
“A clear majority of Massachusetts voters and rideshare and delivery drivers both supported and would have passed this ballot question into law,” the group said.
a Massachusetts attorney running as a Democrat to be the state’s attorney general, welcomed the decision and said the ballot initiative would have taken away rights from gig workers.
Ms. Liss-Riordan co-founded Massachusetts Is Not For Sale, a labor-rights group campaigning against efforts in the state by technology companies to shape laws that affect gig workers there. The group also opposes a bill pending in the state legislature that would establish a portable benefit account for drivers, because they are classified as independent contractors.
Massachusetts Attorney General
sued Uber and Lyft in 2020 over their classification of drivers. In March 2021, a judge denied the companies’ motion to dismiss the suit.
In 2020, companies including Uber, Lyft and
won a vote in California that exempted them from reclassifying drivers as employees. The companies contributed around $200 million to support the ballot measure, called Proposition 22. Winning the vote allowed them to bypass a state law intended to provide employee-like protections for their drivers. The campaign was the most expensive for any ballot measure in state history.
The outcome allowed the ride-hailing and delivery companies to avoid complying with a law that could have reshaped their business models and battered their business in the most populous U.S. state. It also set the tone for gig-worker regulation in the rest of the country.
In August, a California state judge said the ballot measure was unenforceable and unconstitutional, adding a wrinkle to the companies’ efforts to preserve their independent-worker model and a setback in their yearslong fight against the California law at the heart of the ruling. The companies said at the time they planned to appeal.
The effort to win popular support for Proposition 22 led the companies to guarantee new protections. The companies say they now offer health insurance for drivers who work 15 hours or more a week, occupational-accident insurance coverage and 30 cents for every mile driven, among other protections.
—Preetika Rana contributed to this article.
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Appeared in the June 15, 2022, print edition as ‘Massachusetts Ruling Halts Vote on Gig Jobs.’