Report: Voters might not have final say in referendum | News
BOSTON — Massachusetts voters go to the polls in November to decide whether Uber and Lyft drivers should be classified as independent contractors, but a new report suggests that might not be the final word on the issue.
The report, released Wednesday by Tufts University’s Center for State Policy Analysis, notes that a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Maura Healey, which calls for recognizing drivers as employees under the state’s wage and hour laws, is unlikely to be fully resolved by the Nov. 8 elections.
“Given the likelihood of appeal and other delays the Attorney General’s suit probably won’t be resolved before November, meaning voters will go to the polls with this uncertainty hanging over the ballot,” the report’s authors wrote.
Healey’s lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court nearly two years ago, calls for changing drivers’ designation under the state’s labor laws and requiring them to be paid minimum wage, with overtime and earned sick leave, among other benefits.
The Tufts report, which doesn’t take a position on the ballot question, said a “no” vote will be a gamble for voters because it would ultimately leave the final decision about classifying the drivers up to the court.
Conversely, a “yes” vote would affirm the independent status of ride hailing drivers, effectively ending the lawsuit. and while it would give drivers new protections, they would still lack benefits associated with full-time employment, such as overtime pay and retirement plans, according to the report.
The referendum, which mirrors one adopted by California voters last year, has made Massachusetts the latest battleground over the issue of whether drivers for ride-hailing services are regular employees.
Supporters of the referendum include the California-based ride-hailing services, as well as the food delivery service DoorDash. They say classifying drivers as independent contractors would allow them to boost drivers’ pay and provide a health-care stipend.
Critics of the proposal, including labor unions, call it a thinly veiled attempt by the companies to skirt state taxes and labor laws.
The measure is one of three referendums that has cleared several hurdles on the way to the November ballot.
Lawmakers have until May 4 to take action on the pending legislation that also would grant drivers the employment status sought under the ballot initiative. If they don’t act, backers of the referendum must submit about 13,000 signatures by July 6 to make the ballot.
In its report, the center noted that there is still time for lawmakers to avoid a costly ballot fight and resolve the lawsuit by passing the legislation.
“The Legislature’s authority on this issue never expires, so in theory it could intercede next year or the year after,” the report’s authors wrote. “But with the lawsuit advancing and the ballot question approaching, the time seems ripe for a thoughtful solution.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.