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Supreme Court Arbitration Ruling: Elections Have Consequences

The decision May 21 by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that companies can use forced arbitration as a condition for employment is a direct attack on workers’ rights and clearly demonstrates that elections have consequences.

The decision means that to get a job, it’s OK for companies to require a person to agree to arbitration and not to join in organizing or class action lawsuits in cases charging unfair pay and working conditions.

The vote was a solid slap in the face of American workers by the court’s Republican justices, who formed the majority in ruling against efforts by workers to organize.

The decision, written by President Trump’s appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, can be expected to hurt the many blue-collar workers who voted overwhelmingly for Trump.   Now they will have limited legal options to resolving serious workplace grievances. Effectively, the court chose to protect corporations over workers.

For one, America’s “big beautiful coal” industry must be happy. All those miners who voted for Trump? Wait until they’re forced into arbitration against the coal companies as they fight for safer working conditions or better pay. The consequences are far-reaching, indeed.

Indeed, Elections Have Consequences

For Democrats who sat out the last election or decided that they couldn’t support an imperfect candidate in Hillary Clinton, the Supreme Court’s decision is another reminder that there are consequences to the outcomes of elections.

When American workers are effectively stripped of the right to organize to fight for better pay and working conditions and instead, are forced into arbitration stacked in favor of the company, they will lose.

And when our elected officials fill judicial benches with Republican justices who believe that “corporations are people too,” American workers can expect that in exchange for the ability to provide for their families, they also may have to give up the right to fight against unfair pay and working conditions.

The Case

The crux of the case, Epic Systems Corporation v. Lewis, was whether the Federal Arbitration Act, passed in 1947, compels two willing parties (the employer and employees), to use arbitration to resolve grievances.

The employees argued that they still retain the right to pursue collective legal action against the company under the National Labor Relations Act, a 1935 law that allowed workers to organize and collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions. They claimed that pursuing legal action against the employer freed them from the obligations to participate in arbitration.

But the Republicans on the Court disagreed.

Gorsuch wrote that the Court’s decision was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court’s precedents. He said that if workers are allowed to organize and pursue legal action, “the virtues that Congress originally saw in arbitration – its speed, simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away and arbitration would look like the litigation it was meant to displace.”

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg called the decision “egregiously wrong.” Ginsberg said the decision will result in “a huge under-enforcement of federal and state statues designed to advance the well being of vulnerable employees.”

Why It Matters

According to one report, more than 60 million employees are forced to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. If your job depends on this, and it’s the only thing standing between you and gainful employment, –wouldn’t you feel compelled to do so and keep the lights on and food on the table?

Being prohibited from organizing to pursue collective legal action over unfair pay and dangerous working conditions that must now be settled through arbitration — designed to protect the company’s interest in the first place — is unjust and will hurt American workers. That includes school teachers throughout the country fighting collectively for fair pay, adequate school funding and pension protection.

The American labor force is in a dangerous place when corporations matter more than the rights of workers.   And there’s no clearer demonstration that every election matters than the outcome of this court’s epic fail–perpetrated at the expense, safety and wellbeing of the American worker.

Posted by Bob Gatty, from an essay by Stacy Fitzgerald.




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