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June 23, 2021, 2:00 p.m. EDT

Massachusetts coalition launches to fight Uber, Lyft and avoid California gig-work outcome

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By Levi Sumagaysay

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Beyond ride-hailing

Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman, echoing some of the comments by Liss-Riordan and Dubal, said the upcoming battle in Massachusetts is more than just about ride-hailing drivers and those currently classified as gig workers. They said grocery delivery drivers, hotel and restaurant workers have lost their union jobs since the passage of Proposition 22 in California.

See: Albertsons, Vons shifting to third-party grocery delivery in California, elsewhere

“The [companies] come in here with their high tech, high-falutin’ attitudes and think they can change Massachusetts,” Tolman said. “We’re not going to allow it.”

Dubal said, “This is about protecting wages and livelihoods of service workers across the country.”

Civil-rights issue

Dubal also said the fight “is a civil-rights issue, not just a labor-rights issue.”

During their campaign in California, the gig companies “used the facade of racial benevolence to say this was going to somehow benefit people of color,” she said. “We’ve already seen in the aftermath that wages have gone down and consumer prices have gone up.”

Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston NAACP, also spoke at the news conference. She acknowledged the “opportunity in the gig economy” but added that “it is critically important that, from a civil-rights standpoint, we stand with labor on this particular issue.”

William Gould, professor emeritus at Stanford Law School and a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, told MarketWatch that the Massachusetts worker coalition should watch which organizations may have received financial support from gig companies. “One thing we didn’t understand here [in California] was the extent to which some civil-rights groups were apparently influenced to either remain silent or support the companies,” he said. 

See: Race has played a large role in Uber and Lyft’s fight to preserve their business models

A recent report from The Markup detailed Uber and Lyft’s donations to organizations that work with communities of color. Some of those organizations placed op-eds extolling the virtues of gig work in minority newspapers.

Beth Griffith, a driver and chair of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild, said at the news conference that upwards of 70% of Massachusetts’ 220,000 gig workers are people of color and immigrants.

“We may not have the biggest budget but we have the biggest heart,” Griffith said of the fight the new coalition has launched, which will include educating gig workers and the public about the worker protections that are at stake. “And we have the most to lose.”

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