Massachusetts voters could soon decide on a ballot initiative to protect app-based drivers from forced reclassification. 

Two Bay State groups—the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work and Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts—are supporting a petition for a 2024 ballot measure to classify ride-share drivers as independent contractors and not employees while affording them access to benefits. 

“The proposed law would require rideshare and delivery companies to provide drivers with a guaranteed amount of minimum compensation, equal to 120% of the Massachusetts minimum wage for time spent completing requests for transportation or delivery, plus an inflation-adjusted per-mile amount (starting at 26 cents) for each mile driven in a privately-owned vehicle while completing a request,” the most-available petition language reads

Reuters adds “drivers would also receive health care stipends, occupational accident insurance and paid sick time” while maintaining their flexibility. 

This proposed initiative mirrors California Proposition 22 which classified ride-share drivers as independent contractors with access to benefits. The measure, which a majority of California voters supported in the 2020 election, was upheld as “mostly constitutional” earlier this year.

Renewed interest to protect app-based drivers as flexible workers comes after local app-based drivers recently descended on Boston, the capital, to protest two state bills—“the Rideshare Drivers’ Justice Bill” (House Bill 1099) and Senate Bill 1157—that would unionize them and strip them of their independent status.

Labor unions are also pushing a 2024 ballot measure of their own to forcibly unionize “transportation network drivers.”  

Alternatively, there are two bills that would bolster independent contractors: one to establish a portable benefits account for ride-share drivers and another to protect independent contractor status while maintaining access to benefits. 

Two previous ballot measures to protect independent contractors failed to advance during the 2022 elections after the Massachusetts Supreme Court rejected them. 

Their ruling read, “We conclude that the petitions contain at least two substantively distinct policy decisions, one of which is buried in obscure language at the end of the petitions, and thus fail art. 48’s related subjects requirement. As such, the Attorney General’s decision to certify the petitions was in error, and accordingly the petitions may not be placed on the ballot.

Despite Big Labor’s aggressive push to forcibly reclassify independent contractors—including Massachusetts ride-share drivers—as employees, drivers overwhelmingly desire to keep their independent status. 

An April 2023 Beacon Research survey found substantial support for this claim. For instance, 76% of respondents enjoy their independent contractor status—a 5% increase from February 2022. That same survey found 85% of respondents support legislation that protects their independence while also guaranteeing them $18 per hour, paid sick time and family leave, healthcare stipends, discrimination protections, and deactivation appeals.”

Nationally, ride-share drivers prefer the independent contractor label and don’t identify as traditional employees. A December 2021 Pew Research Center “State of Gig Work” report revealed 62% of Americans perceive ride-share drivers as independent contractors, and 65% of app-based workers, including drivers, perceive themselves as ICs.

A third way is offering a portable benefits system to stymie forced reclassification efforts like California Assembly Bill 5. Utah recently enacted its own program. I analyzed Mercatus Center’s February 2023 portable benefits policy brief here at IWF: 

In contrast with universal benefits (i.e. healthcare) offered to full-time employees by an employer, portable benefits would be decoupled from employers and follow individual workers regardless of work arrangement—W-2 or freelance.

….

The implementation of a portable benefits program would stipulate voluntary participation and multiple sources of contributions and directly tie benefits accounts to individual workers.

Regulators in Massachusetts and at the federal level misunderstand independent contractors and are stifling their potential with onerous rulemaking by coercing them back into undesirable worker arrangements. 

The future of work is flexibility—especially with half of the U.S. workforce projected to engage in some variation of freelance work by 2027. 

To learn more about portable benefits, go HERE.