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

PRO Act Would Put Power Back in Workers’ Hands

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

Between 1935 and 1965, union membership rose precipitously in the United States. Wages increased in tandem with productivity, benefits improved, the middle class blossomed and income inequality dwindled.

Those good times are over, however. After 1965, the rate of unionization steadily fell from the high of about 30 percent to 10.5 percent now. Wages stagnated after 1970, even as productivity increased. Income inequality rose to Gilded Age rates.

This was no accident. It was a result of a calculated campaign launched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and financially fed by corporations and right wing billionaires. They secured appointment of conservative, anti-union judges who ruled against unions. They bankrolled right-wing political candidates who passed anti-union legislation. And they subsidized anti-union organizations that taught corporations how to skirt the law and twist workers’ arms to defeat union organization efforts at workplaces.

Now, however, Democrats in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have introduced legislation intended to reverse the union slide by restoring workers’ rights. 

The Protecting the Right to Work (PRO) Act, introduced on May 2, would make it easier for workers to form unions and would more effectively punish employers that violate the rights of workers trying to organize.

The proposed law would facilitate unionization, which Democrats believe would raise workers’ wages and reduce income inequality. Union workers earn about 13 percent more than nonunion workers and receive better benefits and pensions.

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The Richest Fantasy

The Richest Fantasy