If you want ridesharing to continue to be available in Massachusetts, our state needs to start listening to drivers. When you step into a rideshare — maybe an Uber outside Logan Airport, maybe a Lyft on the way home from a party — you and your driver might not exchange a word. But we wish we could talk to you about how Uber and Lyft are failing us. Massachusetts narrowly escaped disaster this month when the state Supreme Court dismissed a Big Tech-backed ballot question that would have upset already-harmed drivers like me and harmed our passengers as well.
While Uber and Lyft said their voting measure was best for drivers, this scheme was actually about what’s best for app companies. Uber, Lyft, Doordash and Instacart spent $17.8 million trying to persuade Massachusetts voters to side with their top leaders. This referendum attempted to shift all liability from the app companies that have money to the drivers that don’t have money, leaving customers and drivers unprotected. The fact that this voting action is no longer going ahead is a huge relief to Massachusetts drivers.
Despite the best efforts of these app juggernauts, the failure of their poll question prevented disaster. But this decision did not improve the lives of the drivers. To do this, we need laws that allow drivers to form a union and finally enjoy the same rights and protections as other American workers.
I would know. I started driving for Uber to send my youngest son to college. As a working mom, I quickly realized that ridesharing comes with a catalog of unprotected liabilities, and that the app companies we ride for do very little to protect us. These companies thrive on our fears, fears, and countless hours of work. We raze our cars to the ground and burn expensive gasoline that we can hardly show at the end of a 60-80 hour week.
As an Uber driver, my colleagues and I bear all the costs of a multi-billion dollar industry. I try to make enough money every week even though my gas costs are increasing. I worry about car accidents because I can’t cover the damage and I would lose money if I couldn’t drive. I’m afraid of having to replace my car. Banks don’t like to put five-year certificates on cars that have 100,000 miles on the clock in three years.
I fear that my driver rating will decrease and my earning potential will be limited. I fear losing my livelihood with a click of a button if I am unfairly disabled from the apps due to an unjustified driver complaint. And what I fear most is a future without social security deductions, a pension, or a 401(k) account. Uber and Lyft have successfully built their futures on the assumption that their drivers don’t deserve any.
We need Massachusetts to lead the country and finally pass legislation that truly makes us partners with the app companies. At the end of the day, we’re workers, so like any teacher, nurse, or construction worker, we demand that the right to join a union gives us the same opportunity to have some semblance of control over our lives. We deserve the same protections and benefits enjoyed by so many other workers in our Commonwealth, and we need the power to bargain collectively to win them.
Just like we saw with Prop 22 in California, the app companies aren’t going to give up the war in Massachusetts just because they lost a battle — they’re going to keep trying to spread their agenda here and across the United States and millions of apps -Make employees into a third category of workers who can earn below minimum wage and lose any opportunity for rights or protections. If Uber and Lyft find a way to succeed here, this news will ring like the opening bell on Wall Street. And your industry could be next.
Ride-sharing and delivery people like me live in fear. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Gig drivers deserve fair pay, legal protections and, most importantly, the dignity that every other worker enjoys. We are pleased that the Massachusetts courts followed the law and dismissed this unconstitutional election measure. But we can’t stop here. Now is the time for our elected leaders to stand with the drivers and against Big Tech and give us the right to collective bargaining. Anything else would be a betrayal of some of Massachusetts’ most exploited workers.
Lisa Call was an Uber driver and is now an organizer at the Massachusetts Independent Drivers Guild.