Court Questions If Gig Worker Suit Can Proceed In Massachusetts

Massachusetts’ top court on Wednesday appeared reluctant to allow a ballot measure to move forward that would ask voters whether drivers for app-based companies like Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc should be treated as independent contractors and not employees.

Justices on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court expressed concern that a ballot measure that a coalition of app-based service providers hope to put before voters in November goes too far by limiting their liability for accidents caused by their drivers.

Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt said she was “troubled” by the fact the initiative would not only make drivers independent contractors, but also make it so that they are not agents of the companies, which could prevent customers from suing them.

The state constitution allows initiatives to go to a vote only if they cover a single policy question and not unrelated subjects, Wendlandt said, but the measure’s backers are “dumping in all sorts of things and then you’re labeling it as related.”

The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, whose members include Uber and Lyft, last year proposed asking voters to declare their drivers independent contractors entitled to minimum benefits but not treat them as employees.

The companies’ business model depends on a low-cost flexible workforce, and opponents say the proposal contains loopholes that would create a sub-minimum wage for drivers.

The proposal follows a similar 2020 measure in California, where the companies persuaded state voters to treat ride-hail and food delivery workers’ as independent contractors with some benefits. A California judge later ruled that measure violated the state’s constitution. An appeal is pending.

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