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No more ads from ride-share drivers telling us how much they love setting their own hours: Court strikes referendum question from fall ballot

The Supreme Judicial Court today ordered the state to eliminate questions from the November ballot that, if passed, would have stripped Uber, Lyft and food-delivery drivers of their protections under state employment laws by making them "independent contractors" - and also shielded ride-share companies from lawsuits.

In a unanimous ruling, the court said two ballot-question petitions with similar language - which were approved by Attorney General Maura Healey's office - violate a state constitutional requirement that ballot questions only apply to one thing at a time, because worker relationships with a company have nothing to do with lawsuits over injuries and damage possibly linked to the company.

The court said the limitation is in place to keep voters from getting confused by complex questions that seem to do one thing, but actually wind up doing another. The way proponents basically snuck the lawsuit limitations in language buried at the bottom of the questions would only lead to more confusion, the court said. Proponents have spent heavily on TV ads featuring ride-share drivers talking about how much they want to keep setting their own hours and urging voters to help them fend off unspecified evil forces that want to take away that "right."

Petitions that bury separate policy decisions in obscure language heighten concerns that voters will be confused, misled, and deprived of a meaningful choice -- the very concerns that underlie art. 48's related subjects requirement. Voters are not only unable to separate one policy decision from another; they may not even be aware they are making the second, unrelated policy decision. When even lawyers and judges cannot be sure of the meaning of the contested provisions, it would be unfaithful to art. 48's design to allow the petition to be presented to the voters, with all the attendant risks that voters will be confused and misled.

In sum, as these petitions reasonably appear to seek to limit network companies' liability for torts committed by app- based drivers, by barring courts hearing tort suits from treating network companies as employers of app-based drivers and drivers as employees or agents of network companies, and this is a separate, significant policy decision that has been obscured by murky language, we conclude that the petitions violate the relatedness requirement of art. 48.

PDF icon Complete ruling124 KB


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Like Icarus taking a Uber toward the sun.

Voting closed 57

I really wanted to vote against Uber/Lyft/Doordash etc

Voting closed 46

I seriously doubt that the app companies will abandon their efforts completely. Separating the two purposes into two different ballot initiatives clears up this problem, so I expect them to do just that next electoral cycle.

Voting closed 19

Can somebody explain the lawsuit language? I get the classification issue, sounds like the same thing that happened in Cali, but what were they trying to slide by irt lawsuits?

Voting closed 11

When the cab driver doesn't know where Lower Mills is and can barely speak English and the cab smelled like dirty sneakers.. Is that too much to ask?

Voting closed 23

Did in the millionaire’s tax a few years ago. You’d think people would learn?

Voting closed 16

I don't think I would have noticed that clause about liability either.

For a big company like that to try to shield their liability is absolutely ridiculous. They should be responsible for vetting the people they hire, whether they're employees or independent contractors. The customers assume that they are contracting with the big corporation, not with some driver whose full name they may never learn.

I work in another industry which has successfully used the independent contractor model for several decades. It is always assumed that the primary liability rests with the company that signs the contracts with the client. They are the ones who must pay significant amounts for liability insurance.

As a subcontractor (or often, sub-subcontractor, or even lower), I do buy liability insurance; but given my position in the food chain, my premiums are much lower because the insurance firms know that I don't bear the primary responsibility.

And for the customer who does have a legitimate claim -- good luck getting full recompense (or any recompense) from your Uber or DoorDash driver...

Voting closed 25

“which were approved by Attorney General Maura Healey's office“

Maura has some ‘splaining to do.

Kudos to the court!

Voting closed 23

Good! The ads were driving me crazy, passing shiny happy drivers off as cherishing independence above all else, while not mentioning that this 'independence' means independence from any benefits or collective bargaining power a true full-time employee would be entitled to under the law.

Kids, here's a tip when you see these ballot question ads - take note of who has the money to create and run these ads during prime-time - believe me, it's not some grass-root organization representing the little guy - and vote the opposite of how they tell you to vote.

Voting closed 42