Justices Give Gig Worker Plan a Cool Reception ... and Other Legal News You May Have Missed

By Richard Dahl on May 10, 2022

Massachusetts' top court appears to be taking a dim view of an effort by app-based companies like Lyft and Uber to continue designating their drivers as independent gig workers.

A coalition of these companies is seeking approval of a ballot measure that would ask voters to allow them to pay drivers as contractors with certain benefits like health insurance and sick time. Justices on the state's Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments on May 4 and expressed concern that the measure goes too far by limiting the companies' liability for accidents caused by their drivers.

The case is drawing national attention because if the question does make it to the ballot in Massachusetts this November, it could make the Bay State the epicenter of a growing national battle over the rights of gig workers.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, whose members include Lyft and Uber, gathered enough signatures last year to put it on the ballot.

In September, state Attorney General Maura Healey certified that the proposed measure met state constitutional requirements. In March, however, a group of labor-backed activists sued her office, claiming that the measure was overly broad and violated a state law that ballot questions be focused to some degree.

Media accounts of the May 4 SJC hearing indicate that justices seemed to agree with that argument. Justice Dalila Argaez said she was troubled that the measure's backers are "dumping in all sorts of things and labeling it as related."

Justices also seemed receptive to an argument by plaintiffs that the coalition is maneuvering to avoid liability risks. "The public may feel one way about gig employees and how they are compensated, but they care a lot about accidents with people and if they are limited to suing the large corporation or the guy with the car to cover their damages," Chief Justice Scott Kafker said. "Those are two different policy questions."

The Massachusetts proposal comes on the heels of a similar measure in California, where voters approved a ballot measure by ride-hail and food-delivery companies to designate their workers as independent contractors with some benefits. Last August, however, a state judge ruled that it was unconstitutional because it infringed on legislative powers to set workplace standards. Supporters of the ballot measure appealed that decision.

FDA: Be Careful With Delta-8 THC Claims

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning five companies that sell products containing delta-8 THC that their marketing practices violate federal law.

Delta-8 THC is a psychoactive substance found in cannabis plants. It is not found in significant amounts in the plant but can be extracted in a lab through a chemical conversion of CBD, another active ingredient in marijuana. Products containing CBD are popular due to purported health benefits, while delta-8 THC products supposedly produce a mild high.

Companies tout the presence of delta-8 THC in edible snack and candy products, but the FDA has not approved any drugs containing delta-8 THC. Its warning letter states that any delta-8 THC product claiming to provide health benefits is considered an unapproved new drug.

The agency said it is particularly concerned that some of the food products are packaged and labeled in a way that may appeal to children. In a statement, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock promised that the agency will take legal action "when companies illegally sell products that pose a risk to public health."

Gun Thieves Targeting Cars

Gun thefts from cars are skyrocketing, according to a study by gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

The organization examined data provided by cities to the FBI and found that gun thefts from cars are now the biggest source of illegal guns. In 2010, about one-fourth of stolen guns came from cars; in 2020, more than half did.

The organization was unable to pinpoint factors that are driving the increase. However, one possible explanation is that firearm sales surged in 2019, creating a greater likelihood that owners leave guns in their cars.

Also, in many cities gun thefts from cars surged while home burglaries declined. This suggests burglars turned their attention to cars because homes were more likely to be occupied due to the pandemic

Tennessee and Black-Majority Town Settle Dispute

The town of Mason, Tennessee, and the NAACP reached an agreement with the state comptroller's office after the state attempted to gain control of the majority-Black municipality.

In March, the dispute between the town and the state attracted national attention. The state told Mason that unless it fixed its financial problems it would either need to let the comptroller's office take control or forfeit its city charter and cede control to Tipton County.

Town officials charged that the move was racially discriminatory, and the NAACP stepped in to file a lawsuit. Under the settlement agreement announced on May 4, Mason officials will have a certified public accounting or law firm assist them in completing audits, balancing the budget, and providing training.

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Massachusetts' top court heard arguments for and against a ballot measure that would make ride-hailing and food-delivery workers contractors with minimal benefits. We delve into this dispute and examine a few other legal stories in the news as well.

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