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Massachusetts Supreme Court Deliberates On Ballot Redefining Gig Worker Status

 |  May 6, 2024

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court convened in Boston to deliberate on whether two ballot proposals aiming to redefine the status of app-based workers should be presented to voters in November. The proposals stand to reshape the landscape of gig economy labor relations, particularly affecting industry giants like Uber Technologies and Lyft.

During oral arguments, justices of the state’s highest court expressed concerns regarding the implications of the proposals. Reuters reported that the justices appeared hesitant to fully embrace a proposal by an industry-supported group, which seeks affirmation from voters that app-based drivers should be classified as independent contractors with supplemental benefits, yet not considered employees of the companies they serve.

Jennifer Grace Miller, representing opponents of the proposal, highlighted a critical contention: that voters would be tasked with evaluating not a singular policy question but rather a compendium of disparate elements of employment law. This, she argued, contravenes legal principles by bundling unrelated issues together for voter consideration.

Related: European Commission Pushes for Compromise on Gig Worker Rights

However, Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt queried whether the proposal could be interpreted as addressing a singular policy goal: affirming the independent contractor status of app drivers in relation to the companies they serve.

Conversely, the court seemed inclined to dismiss the objections raised by a labor-backed coalition, including the Service Employees International Union’s Local 32BJ, against a competing measure. This rival proposal, certified by the state attorney general, seeks to enable Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize under state oversight. Justice Scott Kafker notably envisioned a scenario where voters might affirm the industry’s position while concurrently granting drivers the right to collective bargaining, illustrating a “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” scenario.

This legal showdown arrives amidst a broader context of labor disputes between gig economy companies and their workers. Notably, a trial scheduled for May 13 stems from a 2020 lawsuit filed by the state attorney general, alleging that Uber and Lyft misclassified their drivers as contractors rather than employees, spanning several years.

Source: Reuters