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Driving home a point: ‘We demand better’

This article was published 1 year(s) and 2 month(s) ago.

Pebbles Fuentes, an Uber and Lyft driver from Lynn, delivers a speech in front of Lynn City Hall during a protest for higher wages. (Spenser Hasak)

LYNN — A crowd of drivers, riders, union members and community leaders gathered at the steps of City Hall Wednesday afternoon to protest low wages and a ballot question that would allow companies such as Uber and Lyft to strip benefits and protections from them.

During the protest, drivers from Lynn spoke out against their current wage of $4.82 an hour, saying it is inadequate to live on that rate of pay.

Resident Pebbles Fuentes, who is a part of the Lynn United For Change organization, told the crowd her current pay as an Uber driver is not sustainable to help raise her only daughter.

“I have been working as an Uber driver for five years,” Fuentes said. “I am here to demand better protection for not just me, but millions and millions of Uber and Lyft drivers across the state.”

Another driver from Lynn, Stephen Levine, said the rideshare industry is an important business in Lynn and that drivers should be treated and recognized as employees.

“I was deactivated as a driver when I was protesting alongside U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren about this ballot question last year,” Levine said. “We need not only change and justice, but better pay.”

Levine serves on the Board of Directors of the Boston Independent Drivers Guild.

The guild is asking state legislators to pass a bill that would establish a “Drivers’ Bill of Rights” that would secure protections and benefits for drivers.

Currently, the bill is pending in the Joint Committee on Financial Services until the next reporting date of April 30.

Salem Councilor-at-Large and candidate for state Rep. Domingo Dominguez was also at the protest to show support for the drivers and workers.

“We are human and humans deserve the right to be paid,” Dominguez said. “The city of Salem stands alongside you.”

The ballot question supported by large companies would, if voted yes on, classify drivers for rideshare and delivery companies ― who accept requests through digital applications ― as independent contractors, and not employees or agents.

The companies are also sponsoring a bill in the Massachusetts state legislature that would classify drivers of rideshare services and delivery companies as independent contractors under state law.

The legislature held a public hearing about the proposed legislation Wednesday afternoon.

In response to the ballot question, a coalition of labor- and civil-rights groups known as Massachusetts is Not For Sale held four events in Lynn, Springfield, New Bedford and Roxbury on Wednesday protesting the proposed question.

Jonathan Paz, a Waltham city councilor and organizing director of Massachusetts is Not For Sale, led and organized the Lynn protest.

He said the ballot question would compromise Massachusetts’ long history of union rights and labor laws.

“The companies say they want flexibility in negotiations,” Paz said. “No one has an issue with flexibility, but these companies are threatening to take away our flexibility.”

Paz said the Lynn Neighbor to Neighbor coalition and the North Shore Labor Council also helped organized Wednesday’s rally.

Before the creation of the ballot question, Attorney General Maura Healey sued Uber and Lyft in 2020 for incorrectly classifying their workers as independent contractors.

The companies unsuccessfully tried to have Suffolk Superior Court Judge Kenneth W. Salinger dismiss the case in 2021.

The case has yet to be decided.

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