Lawmakers declare war on the biggest civil rights problem you’ve probably never heard of

Ian Millhiser

Ian Millhiser Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst, Think Progress

If you have a cell phone, a credit card, or even if you just have a job, there’s a very good chance that you’ve been forced to sign away your right to sue your cell phone company, bank, or boss. Indeed, under the Supreme Court’s forced arbitration cases, your boss may order you to sign away your rights under penalty of termination.

On Thursday, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced legislation called the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, which seeks to eliminate many forms of forced arbitration. Though versions of this bill have kicked around Congress for more than a decade — often under the name “Arbitration Fairness Act” — the FAIR Act stands out because of the broad coalition of lawmakers who now support it.

The House version of the legislation has 147 cosponsors, while 34 senators cosponsored their version of the FAIR Act.

Nearly a century ago, Congress passed the Federal Arbitration Act to, in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s words, allow “merchants with relatively equal bargaining power” to agree to resolve disputes through private arbitration — rather than through potentially more expensive litigation. In recent decades, however, the Supreme Court expanded the Arbitration Act — often ignoring the act’s explicit text in the process — to allow businesses to force workers and consumers into arbitration agreements, often stripping them of their ability to effectively sue the enterprise.

The Arbitration Act, for example, exempts “workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” Nevertheless, in Circuit City v. Adams, the Supreme Court held that workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce could be forced into arbitration. Similarly, the Arbitration Act says nothing whatsoever about class action lawsuits. Nevertheless, in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Supreme Court held that companies may add language to forced arbitration agreements that immunize the company from class actions.

The consequences of these decisions are severe. According to the Economic Policy Institute, workers and consumers are significantly less likely to prevail before an arbitrator than before a real judge, and they are awarded significantly less money when they do prevail.

The FAIR Act provides that “no predispute arbitration agreement or predispute joint-action waiver shall be valid or enforceable with respect to an employment dispute, consumer dispute, antitrust dispute, or civil rights dispute.” Merchants will still be free to use arbitration in most of their agreements. And workers and consumers can still agree to arbitration after a dispute arises with a business. But businesses will no longer be able to force their workers or consumers into arbitration as a condition of doing business with the company.

Ultimately, however, the success of this and most other legislation favored by Democrats is likely to turn on whether they are willing to abolish the filibuster next time they gain control of both houses of Congress and the White House. Forced arbitration is a partisan issue. The Supreme Court’s five Republicans routinely vote to expand it, typically over the objections of the court’s four Democrats. In 2017, the Republican-controlled Congress voted to reinstate forced arbitration in the banking industry after the practice was restricted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Every single senator who signed onto the FAIR Act is a member of the Democratic caucus.

So it is unlikely, to say the least, that supporters of the FAIR Act will find any meaningful Republican support. If Senate Democrats allow their Republican counterparts to veto legislation that enjoys majority support, Republicans will almost certainly use that power on the FAIR Act.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress

Ian Millhiser is a Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Kenyon College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from Duke University. Ian clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and has worked as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s Federal Rights Project, as Assistant Director for Communications with the American Constitution Society, and as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta. His writings have appeared in a diversity of legal and mainstream publications, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, U.S. News and World Report, Slate, the Guardian, the American Prospect, the Yale Law and Policy Review and the Duke Law Journal; and he has been a guest on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Fox News and many radio shows.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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