Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights launches to defend workers’ rights and benefits from Big Tech assault

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Drivers, advocates, unions, and civil rights groups announce Coalition to stop Uber/Big Gig’s $100M+ campaign to undermine civil rights, wages, and benefits of Mass. workers, urging the companies to “follow the law.”

New poll shows sky-high popularity for paid sick time, sexual harassment protections, and other worker benefits that gig companies illegally deny workers.

BOSTON - Today, a broad alliance of workers, civil rights, immigrant, faith, labor, community organizing, racial and environmental justice groups announced the launch of the Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights, a new group opposing a $100M+ ballot campaign by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and other Big Tech companies to exempt their industry from the state’s civil rights, wage, and benefits laws, and to deny their workers the rights and benefits guaranteed to all employees in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is currently suing two of the largest “gig economy” companies, Uber and Lyft, for illegal “misclassification,” a scheme used by the companies to pay workers less than minimum wage and provide no benefits. The Big Tech ballot measure would codify this misclassification by excluding hundreds of thousands of “app-based” workers, the majority of whom are immigrants and people of color, from the definition of "employee" under Massachusetts law.

The Coalition also released the results of a new poll showing sky-high support for employee-rights under Massachusetts law, including the minimum wage, paid sick time, paid family and medical leave, unemployment insurance, and protections against sexual harassment. The poll also found that a majority of Massachusetts voters opposed the Big Tech ballot campaign, which would exempt these multi-billion dollar companies from having to provide basic benefits to their workers.

“Uber, Lyft and other Big Tech companies exploit drivers and lie to us,” said Beth Griffith, an Uber driver and President of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild. “We earn less, have fewer benefits, and fewer protections than any other workers. Now these billion-dollar companies want to pass a law that strips away our rights for good. Drivers are going to fight back.”

“Our message is simple, these gig companies need to follow the law. Every small business in Massachusetts pays minimum wage, gives sick time, and contributes to social security and unemployment insurance,” said Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “These Big Tech companies want to make billions by pushing these costs onto workers and taxpayers. It is time to end this unacceptable free ride.”

The Coalition, which includes civil rights groups and many advocates for BIPOC workers and communities, detailed the particularly harmful effect of the Big Tech proposal on Black, Brown and immigrant workers in Massachusetts, which comprise the majority of the gig company workforce. A 2018 report by the Federal Reserve found that 58 percent of full-time gig workers could not afford a $400 emergency expense. The National Employment Law Project found that Black workers comprised nearly one quarter of all workers in the gig economy and recent studies suggest that 70 percent of drivers and delivery workers are people of color.

Critically, the companies’ bill, HB 1234, and the expected ballot campaign remove app-based workers from MGL c. 151B, the state law equivalent of Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By excluding these workers from sixty years of anti-discrimination protections tied to employment, the companies are seeking blanket protections against claims of racial and other discrimination in their all-important algorithms (compare the current state law's protections against HB1234 on slide 14).

“When we embrace policies that support working families and provide workers with the protections they need, we help address inequality and improve the quality of life within communities of color and working class families,” said Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston Branch.

"The MIRA Coalition supports the rights of all workers to the basic protections in Massachusetts law, including immigrant workers who contribute so much to our economy,'' said Amy Grunder, Director of State Policy & Legislative Affairs Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. "We will be working with our member organizations to educate immigrant communities about what's at stake in this critical campaign for workers' rights." 

Should Big Tech be able to buy a law? Our Coalition says “no.” Leading up to Election Day in 2020, Big Tech companies spent $210 million dollars on misleading ads to pass Proposition 22, a ballot initiative in California, that excluded gig workers from civil rights, wage, and benefits laws. The companies are preparing to follow the same playbook in Massachusetts. The Big Tech initiative will be filed in Massachusetts by the state’s deadline of August 4, 2021. The Coalition is mobilizing to counter their anticipated $100M+ misinformation campaign and hold Big Tech accountable for following the law.

In the aftermath of Proposition 22, gig company workers in California are making less money and have even less autonomy. More companies are also following Uber’s lead and eliminating traditional employees. Union supermarket workers were fired and replaced with app-based drivers, without benefits. An early investor in Uber wrote that Proposition 22 made it possible to eliminate worker rights and protections in fields like “nursing, executive assistance, tutoring, programming, restaurant work and design.”

"These tech companies exploit vulnerable workers and undermine efforts to build wealth and opportunity in Black and Brown communities," said Mimi Ramos, Executive Director at New England United 4 Justice. "We have seen the company playbook and we are organizing now to protect our rights and build our power."

"Uber and other multi-billion dollar gig companies have spent a massive fortune to keep their workers earning less than minimum wage," said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney at Lichten & Liss-Riordan, P.C. and Coalition board member. "Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly support worker benefits like paid family leave and sick time. We are building this Coalition to fight back against this cynical Big Tech campaign to exempt themselves from the rules that apply to every other company."

“The ‘gig’ economy’s’ illegal labor practices impose their heaviest burden on the overwhelmingly Black, Brown, and immigrant workforce that powers these massive companies,” said Veena Dubal, Professor of Law, UC Hastings. “In Massachusetts, we have a chance to hold these companies accountable under law, and rein in the exploitation that enriches their investors at the expense of everyone else.”

Big Tech misleads workers and the public. The companies have spent years building a false narrative that low-wage app-based workers must trade away civil rights and worker benefits in exchange for “flexibility.” This simply isn’t true. Current Massachusetts law, which the companies are violating, allows for flexible work arrangements. The Big Tech “flexibility myth” is that some of the wealthiest companies in Silicon Valley cannot afford to offer minimum wage or worker’s compensation, or follow the same rules as every other employer.

The result of Big Tech’s misclassification is that workers, taxpayers, and small businesses have to cover costs that should be covered by the companies. Reports from UC Berkeley Labor Center and others have found that the companies have saved billions through nonpayment of safety net benefits, placing heavy burdens on taxpayers during the pandemic.

“Clean Water Action believes environmental, racial and economic justice must be considered a package deal -- no exceptions!” Cindy Luppi, New England Director for Clean Water Action continued, “this means all employers must be held accountable to labor laws -- so that jobs in the "new economy" are just, and increasingly green, and accessible to people of color. We are pressing for this standard in green infrastructure jobs, and this must be the case for gig economy jobs as well.”

"Uber and other Big Tech companies would rather spend $100 million to undermine worker rights than reimburse drivers for a tank of gas," said Mike Firestone, Director of the Coalition to Protect Workers' Rights. They want to jam through an anti-worker law with a bottomless checkbook and an avalanche of misinformation. This broad, diverse coalition is mobilizing to stop them and build power for working people."

Big Tech’s Agenda: Changing the Law to Deprive Workers of Rights. 

In recent years, Massachusetts has strengthened the rights of workers, adding paid sick time, annually increasing the minimum wage (now $13.50) to reach $15 per hour, and, most recently, expanding paid family and medical leave to all. These changes have been particularly important for low-wage workers, raising standards of work across our state. Our poll confirms that the rights and benefits are supported by overwhelming majorities of voters of all parties.

The Big Tech bill, HB 1234, would exclude hundreds of thousands of workers from these rights and protections by excluding app-based workers from the definition of "employee" under Massachusetts law (MGL Ch. 149, § 148B). Under law “employees” are entitled to many rights and benefits including minimum wage, paid sick time, and paid family leave, unemployment insurance and workers'compensation, and protections against sexual harassment and racial discrimination at work. Attorney General Healey is currently suing Uber and Lyft for illegally denying these rights to their employees and won a significant victory on March 25. Rather than comply, Big Tech has proposed rewriting our longstanding law to exclude their workers entirely.

Endorsing Organizations (list in formation):

ACLU of Massachusetts

Asian American Resource Workshop

Action for Equity

Alternative for Community and Environment

Boston Independent Drivers Guild

Brazilian Worker Center

Building Pathways

Chinese Progressive Association

Clean Water Action

Coalition for Social Justice

Community Labor United

Greater Boston Legal Services

GreenRoots

Justice at Work

MA Alliance for Retired Americans

Massachusetts AFL-CIO

Massachusetts Building Trades Council

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association

Massachusetts Job with Justice

Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition

NAACP New England Area Conference

National Employment Law Project (NELP)

New England United 4 Justice

Neighbor to Neighbor MA

New England United 4 Justice

Public Rights Project

SEIU Mass State Council

Somerville Stands Together

Union of Minority Neighborhoods

VietAID

Worcester Interfaith

National Partner Statements:

Statement from AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka


“For too long, gig companies have made billions in profit at the expense of workers, and H.1234 will allow this exploitation to continue. Massachusetts’ app-based drivers deserve the benefits and health care afforded to every other employee in the state. Make no mistake: This bill is not progressive. It is Prop 22 disguised under a new name, and it is designed to leave workers behind.”

Brian Chen, Attorney, National Employment Law Project

These companies’ business model capitalizes on the desperation of workers who have long been left behind. Their attempt to exclude themselves from foundational labor standards raises profound racial justice issues.”

About the Coalition: Twitter: @noprop22ma | FB: @NoProp22MA | www.noprop22ma.com

The Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights is a broad alliance of workers, civil rights, immigrant, faith, labor, community organizing, racial and environmental justice groups who believe that all workers in Massachusetts should be able to earn a decent wage, take care of their health, and protect against harassment and discrimination on the job. We oppose the $100M+ campaign by Big Tech companies to undermine our law, as they recently did in California through Proposition 22, to exclude workers from basic rights and exempt themselves from the obligations of every other employer.

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Cindy Luppi
617-338-8131 x 208
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