Uber and Lyft are rewriting the political playbook in Massachusetts
Hello and welcome to Protocol Policy! To wrap up a wild week in tech, we bring you a story about the Massachusetts gig battle that’s primed to reshape the future of work … and lobbying. Plus, we catch you up on the Sohn Saga and the latest with the Open App Markets Act. And did we mention Protocol turns two tomorrow? Here’s to many more newsletters. 🥂
Gig companies are rewriting the lobbying playbook in Massachusetts
My colleague Anna Kramer and I spent the last few weeks investigating the Massachusetts Proposition 22-esque campaign that would ensure gig workers remain independent contractors. You can read the full article here. One thing became clear early on: This campaign will likely become one of the most expensive, complicated and consequential ballot questions in U.S. history, and you need to be paying close attention.
Let’s start with the expensive part: Get ready to see a whole lot of broken campaign spending records.
- The California Proposition 22 battle became the most expensive ballot measure in state history. The gig companies spent a little over $200 million, while their labor group opponents spent just $20 million.
- In Massachusetts, the gig companies are poised to surpass the state record of $60 million spent across all ballot measures in 2020.
- Even at this relatively early stage, Lyft has already broken Massachusetts’ one-time political contribution record with a $14.4 million donation late last year.
- By November, the “No” campaign anticipates their opponents will have raised at least $100 million. Their own goal is around $10 million.
The gig companies are fighting in courts, in the Massachusetts legislature and potentially on November ballots. This three-pronged approach is more sophisticated than the California campaign strategy. It also demonstrates that it’s no longer enough to have a plan — you also need a backup plan and a backup-backup plan.
- The court battle kicked off in July 2020 when Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit attempting to grant gig workers employee benefits under existing state law.
- That lawsuit is ongoing, but the gig companies don’t need to win if they change the law underpinning it, either through the legislature or the voter ballot measure.
- So the gig coalition spent over $1.7 million to gather enough signatures to get the question one step closer to appearing on November ballots.
Here’s where things get interesting: Under Massachusetts law, the state Legislature can choose to decide the outcome of ballot initiatives themselves, cutting in front of voters.
- “We continue to push for a legislative solution to this issue and we’re confident that our legislative leaders can get it done,” Conor Yunits, a spokesperson for the gig coalition, told Protocol. This outcome would save the gig companies a lot of headache, as they wouldn’t have to shell out for an immense media campaign to win over voters.
- The legislative opposition doesn’t share this view. “We anticipate that this will go before the voters this November,” said Massachusetts state Senator Paul R. Feeney.
- Within the Statehouse, Feeney senses that the gig companies are preparing for the measure to go to ballots in November, despite their statements to the contrary.
- As things stand now, it’s likely neither campaign will get its best-case scenario, meaning Massachusetts voters will likely get the final say. If you live in the Commonwealth, get ready to see a lot of new political ads. (At least maybe you’ll get a break from the endless DraftKings spots?)
A win in Massachusetts would give the gig companies a political playbook ready to export around the U.S.
- Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi indicated in a November 2020 earnings call that the company is looking to export its Prop. 22 victory across the U.S. and the world.
- Massachusetts is the perfect proving ground for a new era of lobbying: Opponents believe it will be a tougher test than California, given the state’s long pro-labor history and highly engaged voter base.
- The future of work hangs in the balance: Millions of full-time American jobs that still provide health insurance and sick leave are primed to be giggified.
- “We know that if they are successful here in Massachusetts with drivers, that this is only the beginning,” Feeney said.
— Hirsh Chitkara (email | twitter)
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