High court rules that gig workers are not to be classified as independent contractors

High court rules that gig workers are not to be classified as independent contractors

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The highest court in Massachusetts ruled Tuesday that a ballot that would ask voters if ride-hailing drivers are to be considered independent contractors or full-time employees was unconstitutional.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said that the ballot should never have been certified by the state attorney general because it violated state law. The ruling will come as a blow to companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. which have been part of a $17.8 million campaign to support the measure.

“We conclude that the petitions contain at least two substantively distinct policy decisions, one of which is buried in obscure language at the end of the petitions, and thus fail,” the court wrote. “As such, the Attorney General’s decision to certify the petitions was in error, and accordingly the petitions may not be placed on the ballot.”

For a long time now, labor activists have been outspoken in regard to the difficult conditions that ride-hailing drivers face. They have called for a basic minimum wage, as well as various other protections that full-time employees receive. This seems to be gaining more traction in Europe.

In 2021, a proposal written by the European Commission aligned with activists’ misgivings about such work. If passed, it will mean that millions of gig workers would be afforded the same labor rights as regular workers. Earlier that year, there was a landmark ruling in the U.K. when the Supreme Court said  Uber drivers are workers, not independent contractors.

A survey that was paid for by the gig companies and involved 400 Massachusetts-based drivers, revealed that 81% of workers were behind the ballot measure. Labor activists then countered, saying that the companies had given the workers unrealistic information about the benefits of flexibility and not the benefits of worker protections.

“We applaud the court’s ruling against this effort by out-of-state Big Tech CEOs to manipulate our laws in order to line their own pockets,” said the “Massachusetts is not for sale coalition” today. “As we have said from the start, this initiative was both unconstitutional and dangerous. We are proud to have done our part within a broad coalition of consumers, civil rights, labor, and other advocates who united to resist and oppose this cynical ballot initiative scheme.”

This is not the first time that raid-hailing companies have pushed to lock drivers into the classification of independent contractors. In 2020, a California court ruled that Uber and Lyft had to classify their California-based drivers as employees to comply with state law. The companies later went into other states where they again backed legislation that would classify the drivers as contractors. No doubt, the same will happen sooner or later in another state.

Photo: Paul Hanaoka/Unsplash

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