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June 14, 2022 1:28 PM, EDT

Gig Work Vote in Massachusetts Blocked by Court

A DoorDash Inc. delivery bag A DoorDash Inc. delivery bag. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash lost their bid for a ballot initiative in Massachusetts.

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A Massachusetts ballot initiative bankrolled by Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc., and DoorDash Inc. to cement their workers’ status as independent contractors will not move forward, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled.

The proposed ballot initiatives contain at least two “substantively distinct policy decisions, one of which is buried in obscure language at the end of the petitions,” the state justices said June 14 in a unanimous decision. Attorney General Maura Healey’s certification of the proposals for the ballot therefore was wrong, they said.

A coalition of worker advocates and drivers had challenged the certification of the proposals, contending they violate the state’s constitution because the questions posed include unrelated subjects and fail to inform voters about what the proposal would do. The ballot initiative represents the latest battleground for the gig companies, who have funneled millions into the effort to put the questions to a vote in November, mirroring a campaign in California that pushed for a similar proposal.

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Under the ballot proposals, ride-hail and delivery app drivers would be promised perks such as health care stipends and guaranteed minimum pay for time spent assigned to a task. But their employment status as contractors and not traditional employees would be enshrined into state law.

During arguments in May, the justices said voters may not realize that casting a ballot in favor of the initiative shields app-based companies from third-party liability for accidents.

In the June 14 decision, the court didn’t formally rule on whether Healey properly informed voters about the proposals, but said in a footnote that “the failure to even discuss” the provisions on third party tort recovery “would have rendered the summaries unfair.”

Both California and Massachusetts use what’s known as the ABC test to determine worker classification, which makes it difficult for gig employers to defend business models that rely heavily on independent contractors rather than employees. Healey is separately suing Uber and Lyft for misclassification on behalf of the state.

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