Complaint Looks To Torpedo Massachusetts App-Based Driver Question

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By Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

Drivers and organized labor leaders will once again ask the state’s highest court to spike a well-funded, industry-led campaign looking to reshape the relationship between companies like Uber and Lyft and their app-based workforce.

For the second straight election cycle, opponents filed a complaint alleging the series of proposed ballot questions sought by the companies are unconstitutional. They contend the proposal to define drivers as independent contractors and create some new benefits mixes too many discrete topics.

The Massachusetts Constitution requires initiative petitions to focus only on related or mutually dependent issues, and the plaintiffs — which include individual app-based drivers as well as public figures such as Massachusetts Building Trades Union president Frank Callahan — contend that the five versions of the question reach across too many parts of state law.

“The Petitions represent precisely what the framers of [the Constitution’s article 48] feared:  an effort by deep-pocketed special interests to circumvent the usual legislative process and convince voters to adopt a lengthy industry wish-list of policies, relying on multiple versions, densely worded legalese, and illusory promises to confuse voters and gain success at the ballot box,” they wrote in their complaint. “The framers of art. 48 sought to protect against such an effort by adopting the relatedness requirement.”

Two years ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court blocked an earlier version of the independent contractor measure from appearing before voters, ruling that a section of that version improperly combined changes to the relationship between companies and drivers with provisions governing the companies’ liability when someone is injured by one of their workers.

Plaintiffs also alleged in their new complaint that Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office fell short of its responsibility to produce accurate summaries of each initiative petition, arguing that the documents fail to help voters distinguish among the five versions of the ballot question that remain in play.

Adding to an already-complicated landscape, Uber and Lyft this spring are scheduled to go to trial in a years-long lawsuit that then-Attorney General Maura Healey filed claiming their existing business practices violate state labor laws. Other organized labor groups, including 32BJ SEIU and the International Association of Machinists, are pursuing their own ballot question that would give drivers on those platforms the ability to unionize.

The plaintiffs in the state Supreme Judicial Court complaint took aim at the substance of the industry-backed questions, too, writing that “the purported ‘benefits’ proposed by the Network Companies would not provide the same robust protections and guarantees as existing law.”


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