On gig economy ballot question, both sides are brawl-in
THERE WILL BE plenty of time for battling over the substance of the looming ballot question on gig workers. For now, the two sides are getting warmed up by hurling charges and countercharges at each other over process issues and legalisms, an early sign of just how intense the fight is likely to get.
Looking to replicate a ballot question victory in California last November, bankrolled with more than $200 million in spending, gig economy companies led by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart have set their sights on Massachusetts, where they hope to pass a similar question that would legally define gig workers as independent contracts, not traditional employees. A coalition of labor groups has formed to fight the question.
What’s clear already is that this will be a no-holds-barred brawl.
Earlier this month, opponents of the ballot effort fired off a complaint to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance charging that backers violated campaign finance rules by raising and spending money on their effort before formally establishing and registering a campaign committee with the state. Backers said the complaint leveled “false claims” based on “willful misunderstanding of Massachusetts campaign finance laws.”
The skirmishes have the feel of the old Mad magazine feature “Spy vs. Spy,” in which dueling operatives engaged in a back and forth of comical moves trying to trip each other up.
In their latest move, opponents are now hoping to kill the whole thing right out of the gate: They’ve asked Attorney General Maura Healey to rule that the question is not eligible to appear on next year’s statewide ballot because it violates a provision of the state constitution that bans questions with elements that are not sufficiently related to each other. They say a provision of the ballot question that would protect tech companies from liability exposure is too unrelated to its main focus on worker classification. Proponents say the complaint doesn’t “hold up to scrutiny.”
Three years ago, the Supreme Judicial Court knocked a proposed new tax on high-earners off the ballot because the justices said it failed the “relatedness” requirement.
Before any potential litigation could ensue on the gig economy question, it’s up to Healey to initially certify that a question is suitable for the ballot. As it happens, she is also suing Uber and Lyft, alleging that they have been improperly classifying their drivers in Massachusetts as independent contractors rather than employees.
“Uber and Lyft have built their billion-dollar businesses while denying their drivers basic employee protections and benefits for years,” Healey said in announcing her lawsuit against them last July. “This business model is unfair and exploitative.”
Massachusetts has one of the strongest laws defining workers as employees, which is one reason why it’s now ground zero in the national gig economy worker battle.
In an example of the unusual dual role AGs can find themselves in, Healey the outspoken advocate on the issue now has to play ref when it comes to making a critical call in the unfolding battle.
Lynnstallation: Most Massachusetts communities use the same process to commission public art as they do to pave a sidewalk or hire a streetsweeper. They put out a call for contractors, review the bids that come in, and select one, typically the cheapest one. There is little or no public input into the process. Lynn, with the help of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, has come up with a new approach called Lynnstallation, which adds a good measure of community input along with upfront payments to those artists selected to come up with concepts.
— The first test of the approach yielded a project called “Laces of Lynn” by artist Kevin Orlosky. The design was selected when 30 percent of the 212 public voters backed it. “Our real hope is that this creates a clear way for municipalities to contract with artists and commission art and bring more creativity and more art into civic life and the public realm of communities,” said Annis Sengupta, director for arts and culture at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Read more.
Breakthrough cases: Almost 2,700 fully vaccinated people in Massachusetts became infected with COVID-19 between August 7 and August 14, a nearly 20 percent increase over the previous week. Read more.
Union backs vaccine mandate: The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, comes out in support of a vaccine mandate for public school teachers, staff, and eligible students. Read more.
Guardianship dispute: David Kassel of the Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates takes issue with an op-ed on guardianship written by Scott Harshbarger and Paul Lanzikos. He says the unfortunate experience Britney Spears has had under guardianship should not be construed to imply that all guardianship arrangements are abusive or exploitative. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
US Rep. Ayanna Pressley and the Massachusetts Medical Society join the calls for Gov. Charlie Baker to impose a mask mandate on K-12 schools this fall. (Boston Globe)
The city canceled a meeting of a task force dealing with issues at the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Melnea Cass Boulevard in Boston for the second month in a row, and one frustrated community group is calling for the resignation of city human services chief Marty Martinez. (Boston Herald)
Andover officials launch an investigation of the town’s youth services department after reports of financial improprieties. (Eagle-Tribune)
Berkshire County analysts put a positive spin on Census results showing a decline in population over the last decade. They say the rate of decline has moderated and the area is becoming slightly more diverse. (Berkshire Eagle)
US Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra visits a Lawrence community health center to tout the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID. (Eagle-Tribune)
A federal lawsuit filed by employees of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home alleges that workers were forced to care for COVID patients in inhumane conditions, and many still carry the physical and emotional scars. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
The Globe rolls out a special report focused on the urgency of getting all Americans vaccinated.
A Methuen photojournalist who spent six years covering Afghanistan worries about the safety of the Afghans who worked with American journalists. (Salem News) State Sen. John Velis, who served with the US Army Reserve in Afghanistan, is pleading with the federal government not to abandon Afghan allies who helped the military. (MassLive)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has sought to ban masks in schools, tests positive for COVID-19. (Wall Street Journal)
Boston’s early voting plans don’t include any sites in Roslindale, Chinatown, or the Seaport, and City Councilor — and mayoral candidate — Michelle Wu, a Roslindale resident, and City Councilor Ed Flynn, whose district includes Chinatown and the Seaport, want that to change. (Boston Herald)
The New Bedford school department has inaccurately reported data on student arrests — in violation of state and federal requirements — for at least three years. (New Bedford Light)
Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch is tapped to be the first person appointed to the new MBTA oversight board. (Patriot Ledger)
More fishing rules are in the works to protect endangered whales. (Gloucester Daily Times)
Three inmates recently died in the Suffolk County House of Correction — and their families are demanding answers to what happened. (Boston Globe)
A WBUR investigation finds police often seize money and other assets during arrests, and make it hard if not impossible to recover the funds if no charges ever materialize.
The Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma, threatens to pull out of an opioid settlement if they don’t receive broad legal immunity. (New York Times)Worcester relaunches its campaign to end distracted driving, even as it temporarily stops issuing tickets for drivers who are using their phones while driving. (MassLive)