OUR COMMONWEALTH IS a national leader in innovative technologies as well as workers’ rights. We have managed to grow economically without sacrificing worker rights to safety, reasonable pay, discrimination free workplaces and the right to organize.
Indeed, we stand on the shoulders of workers that stood up to big corporations. Be it the mill workers of Lowell in the 19th century, the domestic workers of today, or Starbucks workers organizing, our state leans towards justice and inclusion for workers.
We currently face another threat to our laws and protections for workers. Multinational technology conglomerates, much like the titans of industry before them, are doing everything they can to water down workers’ rights with the false promise of more innovation and jobs.
That’s why we have proposed legislation to protect workers in Massachusetts from being exploited by transportation network companies, or TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft, and delivery network companies, or DNCs, such as Instacart.
What we propose is pretty simple: follow the hard fought for laws of the Commonwealth, like every other business.
Those rules are clear and require drivers be protected and paid like they are employees—because they are. Drivers are entitled to at least minimum wage and overtime, reimbursement for gas mileage, and, just like every other company with employees, these corporations should provide workers compensation and pay into the state unemployment insurance fund.
The state should not be in the business of subsidizing a business model that misclassifies workers. That is in fact what has been occurring, perhaps most evident by the unemployment insurance bill the state picked up on behalf of TNC/DNC companies during the pandemic. Because the companies have been misclassifying drivers, these workers also do not currently have the same worker protections from discrimination and abuse.
Uber, whose market capitalization was $110 billion as of this week, can certainly afford to pay what the small bodega, family-owned restaurant, or tiny nonprofit has to pay its workers. Yet, these companies are doing everything they can to skirt Massachusetts employment law. Who does this hurt the most? The low-wage drivers, many of whom are immigrants, people of color, and individuals lured by the false choice that asks them to forgo their worker rights in exchange for flexibility.
To be clear, following the law and classifying these workers as employees does not mean that drivers forfeit making their own schedule. Our state and federal laws do not prevent employees from having flexible schedules, although these companies certainly would like to scare drivers into thinking so.
That’s how they won a ballot measure in California, a campaign on which they spent more than $200 million. These corporations are also being disingenuous when they claim that treating their drivers like employees will prevent them from being able to operate in Massachusetts.
Our bill also recognizes that consumers need protections as well. Therefore, it requires transparent, itemized charges, including surge charges. We will also require that these big corporations stand in the same line as other corporations and have their new rates, fees, and charges approved. Right now, consumers/riders are at the whim of large corporations when it comes to price gouging and protections. Our bill would change that.
These are not impossible standards. Most are already the current laws of Massachusetts. Every other company that chooses to do business here has to follow our laws, which include a minimum wage and the worker protections that come with the presumption of employee status.
These transportation and delivery network companies have the opportunity to restore public trust, be good corporate citizens, and follow the rules. We welcome the opportunity to work together to achieve the rights and benefits that Massachusetts drivers and workers are entitled to.
If not, we have a decision to make as a Commonwealth. Are we are going to honor our legacy of balancing worker and consumer rights with innovation and growth, or are we going to be the generation that let big corporations drive over our rights?
Andy Vargas is a Democratic state representative from Haverhill. Lydia Edwards is a Democratic state senator from East Boston.