Supreme Court Case Threatens Workers’ Rights to Stand Up for Themselves

By Courtney Shaffer
Intern, USW Communications

The Supreme Court began its fall term with a case that could have a big impact on the ways workers can hold their employers legally accountable, potentially limiting their rights to file collective suits against employers who have committed crimes like discrimination or wage theft.

Currently some 10 million Americans, more than half of private-sector non-union workers, have been required to sign class action waivers as a condition of employment, agreements that force workers into individual arbitration rather than collective suits, should one choose to sue their company for any reason. The Supreme Court, which began hearing testimony this month, will determine if these mandates are legal.

Employers love arbitration because it heavily favors them. They can divide workers, even when their experiences are similar, and they can bury systematic exploitation, forcing each worker to hire his or her own lawyer and make his or her individual case behind closed doors.  

For example, the current Supreme Court case, National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil, began when Murphy Oil routinely failed to compensate employees who worked before and after their scheduled shifts. After realizing they could not collectively sue Murphy Oil for stealing their overtime pay, the workers’ only option was to file claims individually in arbitration hearings.

Workers who are not bound to individual arbitration are 50 times more likely to sue their employer for lost wages and more than half of those cases are decided in favor of the workers, according to Alexander Colvin, an arbitration expert at Cornell University. In arbitration, only about 21 percent of workers win, and even if they do, they only receive about 20 percent of the money owed to them.

If private businesses can force employees to sign “class-action waivers,” then the idea of restricting employees could easily expand to jeopardize other workplace rights such as jointly asking for wage increases outside of a traditional union context.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg compared class-action waivers to yellow-dog contracts which banned any workers from forming labor unions before being banned in 1934. “There’s no true bargaining,” the Justice said, “It’s the employer saying ‘You want to work here you sign this.’”


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Posted In: Union Matters

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work