News & Resources

SJC Rules Question on Gig-Workers Cannot Appear in November Ballot


M. Patrick Moore, Jr., co-chair of Hemenway & Barnes Government & Election Law group, argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of a diverse coalition of voters opposing the ballot initiative, including consumers, civil rights and labor leaders, and those injured by Uber and Lyft drivers. The SJC found that the Attorney General should not have certified the ballot question seeking to classify certain gig-workers as independent contractors.

The ballot question sought to classify certain gig-workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, as independent contractors and not employees or agents of the companies, and provide certain minimum benefits. Under art. 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution, ballot questions must “contains only subjects … which are related or which are mutually dependent…” Moore argued that redefining the contractual relationship between the tech companies and their drivers was unrelated to whether the companies should be liable for the actions of their drivers; and that both issues could not be presented to voters at the same time.

The SJC agreed saying, “We conclude that the petitions contain at least two substantively distinct policy decisions, one of which is buried in obscure language at the end of the petitions, and thus fail art. 48's related subjects requirement.”

Moore represented the petitioners with Thomas O. Bean and Sarah K. Grossnickle of Verrill Dana LLP in the suit challenging the Attorney General’s certification of the ballot question. In a joint statement, Moore and Bean reflected on the decision today. “We are proud to have represented a diverse coalition of challengers to this ballot question. The Supreme Judicial Court draws a hard line against initiatives that attempt to mislead voters, as this one clearly did. We welcome the Court’s instruction that where supporters of a ballot question propose policies to the voters – and particularly ones that deprive the public, workers, and those injured of their rights – they must explain those policies clearly, rather than burying them in obscure language in the hope they go unnoticed.”

Read the Decision: El Koussa v. Attorney General, Mass., No. SJC-13237


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