It is easy to ignore national current events. Particularly, the Supreme Court. The current fight about the life time appointment to the United States Supreme Court will have a significant effect on all consumers, and simply regular people. This Court is poised to become more business friendly than any Court since the 1930’s.
The rights of working people and consumers are being made second class to the rights of business and corporations. Many people don’t pay attention to the loss of these rights, and by the time that they discover the loss, it is too late. The losses have been gradual. As a consequence, we lose these rights and simply try to adjust. Unfortunately, that leaves us in the same predicament as the frog in the gradually heating beaker of water: We won’t do anything until the water is boiling, and it is too late.
Corporations are steadily taking away your right to sue over wrongdoing…
by SPARKY ABRAHAM
AUGUST 16, 2018
Back in May, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis. The nation’s highest court decided that employers could force their employees to sign arbitration clauses at threat of their jobs, and that those arbitration clauses then prevented employees from suing collectively when their employers stole their wages or harassed or abused them. That case included gas station workers who were required to drive around town and monitor competitors’ prices but weren’t paid for doing so. The Supreme Court decided that the gas station could force those employees into individual, secret arbitration proceedings to fight for their back pay, despite all of the employees having the exact same grievance based on the same obviously illegal policy.
Oren Nimni and I were unhappy about this. We explained how important it is for employees to be able to band together and take action together, especially where their individual claims for stolen wages might be only a few hundred dollars—a consequential amount for a low-wage worker but not enough on its own to hire a lawyer. We also worried about how litigating employment claims like wage theft and harassment in secret arbitration proceedings would force every single person to prove things all over again even though their colleagues might have proved the very same claims over and over again already. Arbitration gave employers what amounts to a free pass to continue illegal practices, because very few people can afford to do anything about it and even when they can, and even when they win, no one will know.
We also noted just how valuable arbitration is to companies. You can tell by how much money they have spent to protect it, including a TV campaign attacking the CFPB when arbitration regulations were in the pipeline. (Congress killed the regulations.) We worried that arbitration agreements were going to get much more common and that, especially without strong labor protections for collective bargaining on the front end, employees would keep losing power to enforce their rights.
Not to say we told you so, but enter Chipotle. Back in 2013, Chipotle employees began to sue for wage theft. The employees claimed that the company had policies that made them start work before clocking in, and made them clock out before finishing work. Essentially they were required to work without pay. They brought a class action eventually consisting of approximately 10,000 employees.