Gig Workers at the center of the emerging struggle for labor rights

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A group of labor, civil rights and racial justice groups jumped into the growing fray over the wages and benefits of hundreds of thousands of delivery and delivery drivers in Bay State, launching a Tuesday campaign organized to oppose tech giants pushing to rewrite state labor law.

As Massachusetts is poised to become the next battleground in a debate over how app-based companies rank and pay drivers, the Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights has issued a warning that the result could have an impact on employees in several service industries.

“What our coalition wants is for big tech to obey the law and classify their workers as employees who are entitled to the very basic protections we have all fought for: minimum wage, sick leave, time off. family and medical expenses, unemployment insurance and protection against sexual harassment, “said Chrissy Lynch, chief of staff of the AFL-CIO of Massachusetts.” We have come together to oppose Big Tech’s campaign to rewrite them. Massachusetts’ long-standing laws that would exclude hundreds of thousands of workers from these basic rights and protections. “

Massachusetts has more than 200,000 app-based pilots on platforms such as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart, a significant portion of whom are immigrants or people of color, stakeholders said Tuesday.

Uber and Lyft face lawsuit from Attorney General Maura Healey, who made Massachusetts the second state to charge companies for their classification of workers when she alleged they were increasing their profits by viewing drivers as entrepreneurs independent rather than as employees.

While this case is ongoing, app-based companies and their allies have pushed the legislature to approve a bill (H 1234) that would enshrine into state law that “app-based drivers cannot. not be entitled to some of the protections of an employee “while extending certain additional benefits to them.

Senior executives at the platforms, who argue that many drivers prefer to remain independent contractors because of the flexibility it offers, have neither committed nor excluded from pursuing changes via a ballot question.

They must decide before the August 4 deadline to file a possible 2022 initiative petition. If they go this route, voters are likely to witness a murderous and costly campaign before being asked to figure out how some of the transport companies and most popular food delivery drivers rank.

The shadow of California’s proposal 22 hangs over the debate. Last year – while they also faced a lawsuit in California – Uber, Lyft and DoorDash collectively spent more than $ 200 million to campaign for a ballot question that defined app-based drivers as independent contractors, effectively exempting them from a section of Golden State employment law similar to Massachusetts law.

California voters approved Prop 22 in November with over 58% in favor.

Now, with the pressure of Healey’s trial lingering in the background, labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan has said Massachusetts will become “point zero in the next leg of this fight.”

“They have been in Massachusetts for several years now and have been breaking our laws from the very beginning,” Liss-Riordan, a former candidate for the US Senate, told reporters on Tuesday. “Now they see the law is catching up with them, so they’re going to try to do here what they did in California with prop 22, which is buy themselves the law they love.”

The Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights, whose first operations will be funded by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and other unions, touted approvals from more than two dozen organizations when it launched on Tuesday, including the Massachusetts ACLU, Community Labor United, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, NAACP New England Area Conference, and GreenRoots.

Mike Firestone, former chief of staff to Attorney General Healey, will lead the coalition campaign. He warned Tuesday that companies in the concert economy “are preparing to fall with an avalanche of deceptive and very expensive advertising” as they champion their cause.

Members said they hope they can achieve more success than in California because the group is more organized than its opponents in the West and because they have a better idea of ​​how the debate will play out.

Veena Dubal, a professor of law at the University of California at Hastings, told a Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights press conference that many drivers are still pocketing net incomes below the minimum wage after the adoption of proposal 22.

“It’s about wage and hourly protections across the country,” Dubal said. “When we lost in California a $ 225 million fight against these companies, it immediately became very clear that it was going to spill over into other service industries. Many grocery delivery men and packers ended up losing their groceries. employment for the benefit of DoorDash workers. “

The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, a group comprising powerful players in the gig economy like Uber and Lyft and allied business organizations, has so far built its case around the idea of ​​”flexibility.” As independent contractors, the companies say, drivers are free to set their own schedules and routes.

A Beacon Research poll of Massachusetts drivers commissioned by the coalition last month found that, when asked to choose between the two options, 64% would prefer to remain independent contractors compared to 29% who would prefer to be classified as employees. Almost nine in ten respondents cited flexibility in schedules as “the main reasons” they drive for the platforms.

At a virtual event hosted by the Self-Employment Coalition on Tuesday afternoon, several drivers said they were better able to balance work with family, education and other personal needs because application-based businesses allow them to decide their own hours.

“If we become employees, all of our flexibility disappears, because you are now an employee. You are no longer your own boss. Someone else is your boss, so they’re going to tell you what you should and can’t do, ”said Travis Jones, an Instacart buyer and UberEats driver. “Now there are guidelines and rules, but no one tells me when to go in and when to go, and that’s huge. That’s it for this job.”

Industry-backed legislation, filed by Representative Mark Cusack of Braintree and Representative Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield, would make app-based drivers independent contractors under state law as long as the company does ” not unilaterally prescribe “hours or working time or terminate a driver for refusing a ride.

Their bill would also require companies to create benefit accounts for each driver and pay an amount equal to 4% of a qualifying driver’s quarterly earnings. Workers could then use these accounts to pay for retirement or health insurance in the individual market.

Uber officials said in November they hoped to get changes by working with lawmakers rather than the ballot box, but with six weeks before the deadline to start the petition process, Bill Cusack and Gonzalez remains on hold before the Financial Services Committee.

Supporters of the change could also choose to launch an election questions campaign and use it as leverage to push for a deal on Beacon Hill ahead of Election Day.


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