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Gig Worker Ballot Measures Get Hearing in Massachusetts Court

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments Monday (May 6) regarding a proposed ballot measure that seeks to redefine the employment relationship between rideshare and delivery drivers and companies like Uber and Lyft.

The court’s justices expressed concerns over certain aspects of the proposal but seemed unlikely to fully support the argument that it violates the state’s constitution, Reuters reported Monday.

The proposed ballot measure aims to determine whether rideshare and delivery drivers should be classified as independent contractors or employees, according to the report. The measure, supported by the rideshare industry, seeks to affirm the independent contractor status of drivers while providing them with some new benefits.

During the oral arguments, a lawyer for the measure’s opponents questioned whether it improperly bundles together various areas of employment law, making it difficult for voters to consider each issue separately, per the report.

However, a justice raised the possibility that the measure could be viewed as addressing a single policy proposal: that app drivers are not employees of the companies that match them with rides, according to the report.

Opponents of the measure, including a labor-backed coalition, argued that the proposal violates the state’s constitution by selectively exempting drivers from a range of worker protection laws, the report said.

A conservative group argued that the state attorney general wrongly certified a competing measure for inclusion on the ballot. This measure, supported by the Service Employees International Union’s Local 32BJ, aims to allow Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize under state oversight. However, the justices appeared inclined to reject this argument, per the report.

The outcome of this case is significant for Uber and Lyft, as it could potentially lead to a substantial overhaul of their business model if they are found to have misclassified their drivers as contractors, the report said.

Uber’s lawyers have warned that such a change could force them to cut or even end their services in Massachusetts, according to the report. Both companies, along with other app-based delivery serviceshave invested significant resources in supporting the ballot proposal that solidifies the independent contractor status of their drivers.

The court’s ruling is expected before the July 3 deadline for submitting signatures, per the report.

Proposals to reclassify Uber and Lyft drivers as employees rather than independent contractors have sparked heated discussions about labor rights and the unintended consequences of regulatory measures, PYMNTS reported in April.