A Massachusetts court ruled on Tuesday that a proposed ballot measure concerning the job status of gig drivers violated state law and was not eligible to be put to voters this fall.
The measure, which was backed by companies like Uber and Lyft, would have classified gig drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, a longtime goal of the companies. The ruling effectively ended a $17.8 million campaign by the gig companies to support the initiative.
The ballot measure contained two “substantively distinct policy decisions, one of which is buried in obscure language” violating the state constitution, which requires all parts of a ballot measure to be related, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court wrote in its ruling.
The court took issue with a provision of the measure that said drivers were “not an employee or agent” of a gig company, because it appeared to be an attempt to shield Uber and Lyft from liability in the case of an accident or a crime. That provision was unrelated from the rest of the proposal, which was about the benefits drivers would or would not receive as independent contractors, according to the seven-judge panel.
“Petitions that bury separate policy decisions in obscure language heighten concerns that voters will be confused, misled and deprived of a meaningful choice,” the court wrote.
The campaign on the part of gig companies to lock in their drivers’ labor status in Massachusetts was similar to an effort in California two years ago. It would have given drivers some limited benefits but absolved the companies of the need to pay them for full health care benefits, time off or other employee benefits.
The gig companies successfully persuaded California voters to pass Proposition 22, a ballot measure that locked in drivers’ independent contractor status; it was later overturned by a judge.
Opponents of the Massachusetts ballot measure welcomed the court’s ruling.
“Millions of Massachusetts drivers, passengers and taxpayers can rest easier knowing that this unconstitutional bid by Big Tech C.E.O.s to manipulate Massachusetts law has been struck down by the Supreme Judicial Court,” Wes McEnany, who leads Massachusetts Is Not for Sale, wrote in an email. “The ballot question was written not only as an attempt to reduce the rights of drivers, but also would have put the rights of passengers and the public at risk.”
Uber and Lyft declined to comment, but the organization driving the measure expressed disappointment and argued that it would have had wide support in the fall.
“A clear majority of Massachusetts voters and rideshare and delivery drivers both supported and would have passed this ballot question into law,” Conor Yunits, who is leading the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, said in a statement.
The group hoped the state’s legislature would still take action on drivers’ job statuses before the end of the summer. “We hope the legislature will stand with the 80 percent of drivers who want flexibility and to remain independent contractors while having access to new benefits,” Mr. Yunits wrote.