Mass. State Legislature Starts To Mull Rideshare, Gig Economy Bill

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — Are they the puppets of corporate overlords or masters of their own destinies flexibly navigating the gig economy? It depends on who you are listening to, and there's also the possibility the answer is somewhere in the middle.

The long-running debate between well-funded labor interests on one side and high-spending app-based driving companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash on the other takes center stage in the Legislature Wednesday.

Lawmakers have just a few months to agree on a new law governing wages and benefits for drivers. If they fail, the voters of Massachusetts will settle the complex labor-management issue by adopting or rejecting a take-it-or-leave-it initiative petition that is on pace to reach the Nov. 8 ballot.

The Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. James Murphy of Weymouth and Sen. Paul Feeney of Foxborough, will hear testimony Wednesday afternoon about two versions of the industry-backed ballot question (H 4375, H 4376) that would legally declare app-based drivers as independent contractors and mandate some access to benefits.

Massachusetts stands as the latest battleground in a national fight over how popular gig economy rideshare and delivery platforms treat their drivers.

The fight for favor in the Legislature comes while Attorney General Maura Healey pursues an ongoing lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, which alleges their treatment of drivers as independent contractors rather than employees -- and the related impacts on their wages and benefits -- violates state labor laws.

The campaign has already seen a barrage of spending, with Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart collectively contributing nearly $18 million in an effort to secure the changes to state law. Opponents, who align mostly with organized labor groups and have backing from some high-profile Democrats, have raised about $1 million to date.

Written by Chris Lisinski/SHNS

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