Massachusetts Axes Gig Worker Ballot Question

Rideshare - Gig Economy

A court ruling in Massachusetts will put a halt to a ballot question regarding worker classification affecting over 200,000 rideshare drivers in the state. Since California's proposition 22 initiative, rideshare apps such as Uber, Lyft, and Doordash have sought to reclassify their drivers as independent contractors. The move is a controversial one as the reclassification of rideshare drivers would incur the loss of certain benefits, including workers' compensation protections. 


Although the proposed ballot measure received approval from the state Attorney General for certification, opponents of the measure, including organized labor, challenged the proposal's language. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the challengers believing the ballot question to be "overreaching." While justices agreed for the most part that contract-based relationships between network companies and app-based drivers are allowed, vaguely worded language in the latter part of the proposition contained "at least two substantively distinct policy decisions, one of which is buried in obscure language at the end of the petitions." 


Through this conclusion, the court held the view that the ballot measure as worded is not straightforward and includes subject areas that are not "related or mutually dependent" as required by the state constitution. Specifically, justices were alarmed with a provision that would bar state courts from hearing lawsuits regarding treating rideshare app companies as employers of rideshare drivers and drivers as employees or agents of rideshare app companies.


The decision from the Massachusetts high court will likely ensure that a question regarding rideshare drivers' employment classification does not appear on ballots in the state come November. Even though the status of rideshare drivers in Massachusetts will remain unchanged, other states have already sought to modify their worker classification criteria. 


In addition, with the recent ruling in Massachusetts, several states have taken action on the evolving gig economy. In 2022 the Washington state legislature enhanced rideshare worker's benefits, including provisions for workers' compensation and wage safeguards. States such as Vermont and Rhode Island introduced legislation attempting to replicate California's ABC test for classifying workers hoping to bring clarity to classification standards. Whereas in Alabama, the state legislature approved legislation exempting gig workers from the definition of employment, considering them instead as independent contractors. South Dakota also passed a similar bill as Alabama in favor of independent contractor status for rideshare workers.


Like California, the initiative to change rideshare drivers' status in Massachusetts encountered roadblocks in the courts. However, with the gig economy continuing to evolve and develop, similar propositions will be likely in the future. As states consider their own unique interpretations and classification standards in the future, gig workers should check their state's respective statutes and regulations to see what protections (or lack of) they may be entitled to.


Proposition 22 & Workers’ Compensation



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