Prominent Dems Introduce Bill Banning Forced Arbitration

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Prominent congressional Democrats, including chair of the relevant House committee and eight presidential hopefuls, want to negate the Supreme Court’s ruling that mandates company-friendly forced arbitration that overrides workers’ rights.

The Restoring Justice For Workers Act, unveiled by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would reverse the High Court majority’s decision last year that the Arbitration Act of 1925 overrides the National Labor Relations Act, approved 10 years later.

The ruling by the 5-man GOP-named majority effectively banned workers from going to court when their employment contracts – mostly by individuals with firms, but sometimes by unions with firms – mandate the two sides submit all disputes one by one to arbitrators.

Sending arguments to arbitrators winds up in company wins more than 90% of the time, judicial data and other studies show. And arbitration clauses not only override labor law, but the court’s majority ruled, can ban its use altogether. Their ruling also closes off class action suits. 

“The bill would overrule Epic Systems v. Lewis, which allowed employers to continue to require workers to sign forced arbitration clauses,” a summary from Scott’s panel says.

“Arbitration clauses prevent workers from banding together to enforce their legal rights and are often buried in the fine print of employment contracts, meaning many workers are not aware they waived their rights. Use of forced arbitration clauses that block workers’ access to the courts has led to widespread non-enforcement of workers’ rights, including their right to minimum wage, overtime, and to a workplace free of discrimination and sexual harassment.”

The anti-forced arbitration measure, unveiled May 16, is one of a raft of pro-worker legislation pending in the Democratic-run House, with much of it designed to overturn anti-worker rulings by the court’s GOP majority. Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee is the lead set of solons on arbitration.

“For far too long, corporations have tied the hands of American workers through the use of forced arbitration clauses, which are often buried in the fine print of employment contracts and used as a precondition for employment,” Nadler said.

“Forced arbitration strips working Americans of their day in court to hold employers accountable for wage theft, discrimination, harassment and many other forms of misconduct,” he added. The law, if passed, would “finally put an end to this exploitation of American workers and to ensure they have equal protection under the law to hold their employers accountable for illegal behavior. Victims of sexual assault, racial discrimination, and other forms of corporate abuse and misconduct deserve their day in court.’

“Workers should not be coerced into signing away their rights as a condition of their employment, but that is the reality for millions of workers across the country,” said Scott. “Companies are increasingly using mandatory arbitration agreements to slam the courthouse door on their employees, denying them a fair venue to seek recourse for wage theft, discrimination, or harassment. And the court majority ruling banned workers’ class action suits, too, he added.

The bill “protects employees’ fundamental right to have their day in court and join with their co-workers to hold companies accountable for unlawful conduct,” Scott concluded.

Besides Nadler and Scott, 47 House Democrats – including presidential nomination hopefuls Tim Ryan of Ohio and Eric Swalwell of California – signed on. The 16 Senate co-sponsors include presidential hopefuls Cory Booker (N.J.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) – both former prosecutors – Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

An Invitation to Sunny Miami. What Could Be Bad?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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