The battle over whether to classify rideshare drivers as employees for companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart has heated up, as both sides testified over a bill that would codify drivers’ status as independent contractors.

The grassroots Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights earned endorsements from both Boston mayoral candidates, 25 state senators, 44 state representatives, and Attorney General Maura Healey, who filed a lawsuit against these companies for allegedly misclassifying its workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

The group also made headlines last week over a UC Berkeley study that found that drivers would make as little as $4.82 in take-home pay were this law to be passed.

On the Big Tech-backed side, the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work had a letter signed by over 3,200 Massachusetts-based rideshare drivers who support the bill that would grant them some protections while keeping them as independent contractors. The group also said the law is working in California.

Both groups duked it out over an hours-long Joint Committee on Financial Services hearing Wednesday on the bill. It would lock in rideshare drivers’ status as independent contractors but would grant them some benefits, including a portable benefit account and some health care coverage. Rideshare companies are embarking on a similar effort via the ballot question process, meaning voters could decide on this issue in 2022.

During the hearing, several rideshare drivers testified in support of the bill, explaining that they use these apps for the flexibility they offer. “DoorDash has truly been a blessing to me,” said Pam Bennett, who said she can’t work a job because of an injury. “The benefits will simply sweeten the already incredible deal I have.”

Other drivers, though, disagreed. Lisa Call, who started Uber driving to send her kids to college, said her outlook changed after she got into an accident while working. “I realized Uber really does not care about me too much,” she said, adding that it doesn’t compensate her for the depreciation of her car or gas.

Rep. Steve Owens, D-Watertown, needled representatives from rideshare companies and labor experts over why these companies couldn’t provide employee benefits while maintaining flexibility.

“The minute-by-minute flexibility that we’re talking about … doesn’t coexist with employment anywhere,” argued Jen Hensley, head of government relations at Lyft, an answer that didn’t satisfy Owens.

Veena Dubal, a law professor at UC Hastings, later answered his question. “These corporations rely on a workforce, a labor market that needs flexibility,” she said. “If they take that flexibility away, they’re not going to have people doing this job.”

*By Amy Sokolow, Boston Herald*

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