If you want rideshare service 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 your way back home from a party — you and your driver may not exchange a word. But we wish we could talk to you about how Uber and Lyft are failing us. Massachusetts narrowly escaped catastrophe this month when the state Supreme Court dismissed a Big Tech-backed ballot question that would have put already-exploited drivers like me in greater turmoil and hurt our passengers, too.
While Uber and Lyft said their ballot measure was what was best for drivers, this scheme was actually about what was best for app companies. Uber, Lyft, Doordash and Instacart spent $17.8 million to try to convince Massachusetts voters to side with their top executives. This referendum attempted to shift all liability from the app companies, who have money, to the drivers, who don’t, leaving customers and drivers unprotected. The fact that this ballot measure is no longer moving forward is a huge relief to Massachusetts drivers.
Despite the best efforts of these app juggernauts, their ballot question failing has prevented disaster. But this decision has not improved the lives of drivers. To do that, we need legislation that allows drivers to form a union and finally have the same rights and protections as other American workers.
I would know. I began driving for Uber as a way to send my youngest son to college. As a working mother, I quickly came to realize that being a rideshare driver comes with a catalog of unprotected liabilities, and that the app companies we’re driving for are doing so very little to keep us safe. These companies run on our fears, anxieties and countless man-hours. We run our cars into the ground and we burn expensive gas, with little to show for it at the end of a 60-80-hour work week.
As Uber drivers, my co-workers and I carry all the costs for a multi-billion dollar industry. I am trying to make enough each week, despite my gas expenses climbing. I worry about auto accidents because I can’t cover the damage and I’d lose money while not being able to drive. I’m afraid of having to replace my car. Banks don’t like to write five-year notes on cars that will have 100,000 miles on them in three years.
I fear my driver rating going down and my earning opportunities being restricted. I fear losing my livelihood with the click of a button if I’m unfairly deactivated off the apps based on an unwarranted rider complaint. And most of all, I fear a future without Social Security withholdings, a pension or a 401(k) account. Uber and Lyft have successfully built their future on the assumption that their drivers don’t deserve one.
We need Massachusetts to lead the country and finally pass legislation that truly makes us partners with the app companies. We are workers at the end of the day, so like any teacher, nurse or construction worker, all we ask is to be given the same opportunity to have some semblance of control over our lives through the right to join a union. We deserve the same protections and benefits that so many other workers across our commonwealth enjoy, and we need the power to collectively bargain in order to win them.
Just as we saw with Prop 22 in California, the app companies won’t give up the war in Massachusetts just because they lost one battle — they will continue to try and spread their agenda here and across the United States, turning millions of app workers into a third category of worker that can make below the minimum wage and lose any possibility of rights or protections. If Uber and Lyft find a way to be successful here, this news will ring out like the opening bell on Wall Street. And your industry could be next.
Rideshare and delivery workers like myself are living in fear. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Gig drivers deserve fair pay, legal protections and, above all, the dignity afforded any other worker. We are pleased that the Massachusetts courts followed the law and dismissed this unconstitutional ballot measure. But we can’t stop there. Now is the time for our elected leaders to stand with drivers and against Big Tech, and give us the right to collectively bargain. Anything less would be a betrayal of some of Massachusetts’ most exploited workers.
Lisa Call was a driver for Uber and is now an organizer with the Massachusetts Independent Drivers Guild.