Massachusetts voters won’t get to weigh in on whether drivers for Uber, DoorDash and other B2C work services platforms should be classified as independent contractors. Two petitions that would have gone before the voters should not have been certified by the Massachusetts attorney general, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled June 14.
Massachusetts law prohibits measures from going before voters if they contain unrelated subjects, the court said. The two IC ballot measures — which are largely similar — would classify drivers as independent contractors but would also extend the independent contractor classification in cases of possible lawsuits against drivers. These might include suits involving driver assaults or traffic collisions. The extension of the classification could limit platform companies’ legal liabilities in certain cases — and that represents a different subject than only making drivers independent contractors in terms of their work relationship.
“The petitions thus violate the related subjects requirement because they present voters with two substantively distinct policy decisions: one confined for the most part to the contract-based and voluntary relationship between app-based drivers and network companies; the other — couched in confusingly vague and open-ended provisions — apparently seeking to limit the network companies’ liability to third parties injured by app-based drivers’ tortious conduct,” the court stated.
Proponents of the measures said the court ruling denies voters the right to make their own decisions.
“A clear majority of Massachusetts voters and rideshare and delivery drivers both supported and would have passed this ballot question into law. That’s exactly why opponents resorted to litigation to subvert the democratic process and deny voters the right to make their own decision,” according to a statement by the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, the group backing the measures.
“The future of these services and the drivers who earn on them is now in jeopardy, and we hope the legislature will stand with the 80% of drivers who want flexibility and to remain independent contractors while having access to new benefits,” according to the coalition.
Proponents of the ballot measures said last year that they had collected 260,000 signatures to get them on the ballot. Lyft had donated $14.4 million to the effort to get the measures passed.
Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney who has fought numerous court battles against online platform companies over independent contractor misclassification, lauded the court’s decision.
“Today’s decision is a victory for working people in Massachusetts,” Liss-Riordan said in a tweet. “I am proud to be a founding board member of @MassNotForSale and so proud of the work the team did to keep Big Tech from rolling back workers’ rights here in Massachusetts!”
Liss-Riordan is also running for attorney general of Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office had certified the ballot initiatives in September 2021.