Honking their horns and cheering as they circled the State House in a caravan, Uber and Lyft drivers rallied with labor groups and other advocates Tuesday to again press Massachusetts lawmakers to pass a bill that would let the drivers unionize and offer other worker protections.
Bill supporters say that a union would help drivers negotiate for better pay, benefits and working conditions. It’s a push that’s gone on for more than two years on Beacon Hill, with a union just one of a handful ideas raised by competing groups in the fight over how to legally treat rideshare drivers’ employment.
Organizers said more than 500 people participated in Tuesday's event, gathering at a Dorchester parking lot before driving to the State House.
Uber driver Betania Gonell said she’s been using the platform for seven years, usually working 60 to 70 hours a week. She said she used to be able to work fewer hours and earn the same amount of money.
"That is frustrating for me because I took this career just to take care of my kids and have time and flexibility for them, but now I don't have even that,” Gonnell said.
Gonnell is affiliated with the Drivers Demand Justice Coalition, a group whose members include Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, the International Association of Machinists, the Chinese Progressive Association, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, the Merrimack Valley Project, the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and Latinos Unidos in Massachusetts.
That coalition backs the unionization bill, filed in the House by Lawrence Rep. Frank Moran and in the Senate by Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester and Sen. Liz Miranda of Dorchester. The bill also would guarantee a minimum pay rate and protections like paid sick leave and workers’ compensation.
Miranda and Lewis said rideshare drivers deserve the same collective bargaining rights as all other workers in Massachusetts.
“It’s time that Uber and Lyft — huge, profitable companies that are exploiting their workforce — are held to account,” Lewis said.
Massachusetts policymakers have been trying to get a handle for years on what the relationship should be between platforms like Uber and Lyft and the gig-economy drivers, with labor advocates and the tech giants on different sides of the issue.
In 2020, then-Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, alleging that the companies were denying drivers protections like a minimum wage by improperly classifying them as independent contractors rather than employees. That suit is still pending.
Voters almost had a chance to settle the matter of driver classification last year, when a group supported by rideshare and food delivery companies sought to put a question on the ballot that would have written into state law that the drivers are contractors. The Supreme Judicial Court ultimately struck that question from the ballot, leaving the issue unresolved as a new legislative session started this year.
The industry-backed group Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, which has also rallied drivers at the State House this year, says many drivers prefer the independence that comes with contractor status. The group favors one bill that would establish drivers as independent contractors while also providing some new benefits, and another that would create company-funded “portable benefit accounts” for drivers.
Conor Yunits, spokesman for the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, said in a statement to GBH News that unionization bill “would force drivers to become employees for all intents and purposes,” and that his group will “continue to encourage the legislature to bring all parties to the table to find a compromise that protects the independence that drivers demand and the benefits they deserve.”
Other bills on Beacon Hill also propose different strategies for addressing the pay, benefits and classification of gig economy drivers. Lawmakers on a pair of committees, the Financial Services Committee and the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, will hold hearings at some point in the two-year session to explore the issues.