Companies-backed Massachusetts gig worker ballot measure clears key hurdle

Massachusetts’ attorney general on Wednesday gave backers of a proposed ballot measure, which would define drivers for app-based companies like Uber Technologies Inc (UBER.N) and Lyft Inc (LYFT.O) as independent contractors rather than employees, the green light to collect the signatures needed to put it before voters.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey certified that the measure met constitutional requirements, clearing the way for a coalition of app-based service providers backing the initiative to begin collecting the tens of thousands of signatures needed to get the proposal onto the November 2022 ballot.

Her decision came despite a lawsuit that Healey, a Democrat, filed challenging the designations by Uber and Lyft of their drivers as contractors not entitled to benefits like a minimum wage, overtime and earned sick time.

It was among 17 of 30 proposed ballot measures that Healey certified. The union-backed Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights urged Healey to reject the measure as unconstitutional and is considering suing to challenge the measure, said its director, Mike Firestone.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, whose members include Uber, Lyft, DoorDash Inc (DASH.N) and Instacart Inc, last month proposed asking voters to declare their drivers independent contractors entitled to minimum benefits but not their employees.

The proposal would establish an earnings floor equal to 120% of the Massachusetts minimum wage for app-based ride-share and delivery drivers, or $18 an hour in 2023, before tips. Drivers would be guaranteed at least 26 cents per mile to cover vehicle upkeep and gas.

Ride-share and delivery network companies would be required to pay healthcare stipends if drivers work at least 15 hours per week. Drivers could also earn paid sick time and paid family and medical leave.

The Massachusetts proposal followed a similar measure last year in California, where the companies persuaded state voters to solidify ride-hail and food delivery workers’ status as independent contractors with some benefits.

However, a California judge on Aug. 23 ruled that that measure, known as Proposition 22, violated the state’s constitution.