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Local nonprofits join Uber, Lyft in new coalition for ‘app-based workers’

Mar 3, 2021Boston Business Journal, Council in the News

March 3, 2021
Boston Business Journal
By Lucia Maffei  – Technology Reporter

A new local coalition launches today in Massachusetts, backed by several large national companies including Uber and Lyft, as well as local industry groups and nonprofits, saying it plans to advocate for “flexibility” as well as “increased benefits” for gig economy workers.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work went public Wednesday to support what it calls “app-based workers” at a time when the debate over the status of such workers is being examined in courts worldwide.

In an announcement, the coalition listed as founding members local entities such as the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, Associated Industries of Massachusetts and Mass High Tech Council, as well as ride-hailing giants Uber Technologies Inc. (NYSE: UBER) and Lyft Inc. (Nasdaq: LYFT) and food-delivery app DoorDash Inc. (NYSE: DASH).

Other companies involved are the food-delivery services Instacart and Postmates, which was acquired by Uber last year.

“App-based work has been key for Black and Brown communities, who continue to suffer discrimination through traditional hiring practices,” said J. Keith Motley, consultant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts and former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston, in a statement announcing the coalition. “Having the flexibility to work when, where and for however long we want, with few barriers to entry, means we are able to build work around our lives, instead of the other way around. It’s allowed us to supplement our incomes as traditional jobs have disappeared during the pandemic and will be slow to come back.”

Last year, the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued Uber and Lyft arguing that under state law, their drivers ought to be considered employees rather an independent contractors. Classifying them as such would allow them access to more benefits and protections under state law, including minimum wage, overtime and earned sick time. Under the law, workers don’t have to work 40 hours to be classified as an employee.

As of the end of January this year, the lawsuit did not have a scheduled court date.

Just last week, the U.K. Supreme Court upheld a similar ruling that Uber drivers should be classified as workers and not independent contractors. The suit against Uber was first filed in a British employment tribunal in 2016.

Yet Uber and Lyft scored a major win last year in California, where voters have passed a ballot measure — so-called Prop 22 — to exempt firms like Uber and Lyft from having to classify their gig workers in the state as employees rather than as independent contractors.

The Boston Independent Drivers Guild, a nonprofit association of Uber and Lyft drivers that supports Healey’s lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, when contacted for comment called the new coalition “a company-funded” initiative. Henry De Groot, executive director of BIDG, noted that no drivers were listed as founding members of the coalition. He said his association represents 800 Massachusetts drivers.

A spokesman for the new coalition said the group has “dozens of individual drivers from the five companies who have been sharing their stories with us and joining this effort.”

The coalition cites polling from Global Strategies Group indicating that more than 54% of app-based workers in Massachusetts work less than five hours per week, while 83% use the apps less than 15 hours per week.

“My family relies on my ability to work around our crowded schedules, which I’m able to do as an independent contractor,” Yulimar Cordova of Boston, who earns with DoorDash, said in a statement provided by the coalition. “Being an employee and having to fit a traditional work shift into our life won’t work for me. I want to be able to earn more benefits to further support my family needs, but my freedom and flexibility to work wherever, whenever and for how long I want has to be protected.”

Increasingly, the Massachusetts High Technology Council is stepping up to create, execute, and lead critical statewide competitiveness strategies. Fostering a vision for our innovation economy under the MassVision2050 banner, the Council solidifies its position as a thought leader providing valuable insights to navigate emerging technologies, facilitates long-term planning, and reinforces the Council's commitment to excellence and action in the evolving Massachusetts tech-driven economy.

To learn more, contact Council President Chris Anderson.