Rep. Pressley, Sen. Edwards voice support for workers in ongoing battle against big tech
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and State Senator Lydia Edwards are voicing their support for workers and activists who say big tech is exploiting app-based workers.
The group, called “Massachusetts Is Not For Sale,” opposes a proposed 2022 ballot question that would continue classifying delivery and ride-share drivers as contractors rather than employees.
The top donors for the ballot are DoorDash, Instacart, Lyft and Uber. The companies say their existing contract system allows workers to have “freedom and flexibility to choose when, where, how, and for whom they work.”
Pressley accuses the companies of giving workers a “false choice” between flexibility and necessary protections.
"We reject the idea that big tech is exempt from the requirement and responsibility to pay workers a living wage, provide paid leave, or enforce anti-discrimination laws," Pressley said.
Beth Griffith, who’s currently leading an effort to unionize app-based drivers with the Boston Independent Drivers Guild, has driven with Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash for seven years. She says drivers have had to take on more financial burdens over the years, from keeping up with maintenance to rapidly rising fuel prices.
“Gas prices are going up, and drivers like me are the ones to foot the bill for higher costs,” she said.
“You really have to be selective in the rides you’re taking right now. But I’m at the point where it’s not sustainable. I’m spending more money than I’m making due to the gas prices alone."Tara Von
Both Uber and Lyft say they’re offering drivers cash back programs. Drivers would be able to receive up to $0.35 per gallon at select gas stations. Uber announced it was implementing a temporary surcharge on customers to help offset surging fuel costs. The surcharge will be either $0.45 and $0.55 per ride and $0.35 or $0.45 per UberEats order, based on location.
Driver Tara Von called the surcharge “an insult.” She’s been driving for both Uber and Lyft in the Boston area for six years. Her car runs on premium gas, which is inching toward $5 per gallon in Massachusetts. She says her profit as a driver has been dwindling, thanks to lower per-mileage earnings and higher overhead costs. She’s cut her hours over the last month from 40 hours per week to no more than 30. Last week, she took a break from driving altogether.
“You really have to be selective in the rides you’re taking right now," Von said. "But I’m at the point where it’s not sustainable. I’m spending more money than I’m making due to the gas prices alone."
Big tech is pushing the new ballot question two years after Attorney General Maura Healey sued them for incorrectly classifying their workers as independent contractors. Healey argued that under existing Massachusetts labor laws, app-based drivers should be employees. That would require rideshare companies to pay additional employment taxes.
Ride-hailing companies spent nearly $200 million to pass a similar proposal in California, called Proposition 22. In a 2021 earnings call, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the victory in California has given them confidence to pursue a similar measure in Massachusetts — another state with relatively strong labor laws.
The big tech companies hope to win their case in the Massachusetts legislature. If that fails, they'll likely put the question to Massachusetts voters on the November 2022 ballot.