Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

10 Steps to Ending Forced Arbitration

May 6th, 2009 | Brett Brownell

If you look close enough at an employment or credit card contract you’ll typically see some fine print sized like this that says something to the effect of, “By signing this contract both parties agree to submit to binding arbitration. Both parties acknowledge that if there is one or more disputed items that remain unresolved at the end of arbitration, the arbitrator will render a final and binding decision on those unresolved items and his/her decision will be written on a separate settlement agreement and shall be signed by both parties.” It might be confusing. But you might sign it anyway because you need the job, or you need the credit card.

Did you notice the part about “binding arbitration”? That’s the part of the contract where you loose your rights to a trial by judge and jury if a dispute arises between you and that company.

What about the 7th Amendment, you ask? Aren’t we all entitled to a trial by jury? Well, unfortunately binding arbitration, also known as mandatory arbitration or forced arbitration, is legal. No courts or typical rule of law are involved in making decisions through mandatory arbitration. And if we don’t tell Congress to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act, it’s only going to get worse.

The Arbitration Fairness Act stands on the side of workers and consumers. It will make it illegal for companies to force binding arbitration. Instead, the Arbitration Fairness Act will make arbitration a voluntary option where both parties must agree to arbitration, rather than making it mandatory, binding, or forced.

  • Forced arbitration is the reason Jamie Jones of Houston, Texas cannot bring the men she accused of raping her on the job to trial.
  • Forced arbitration is the reason James Myers, also of Houston, Texas cannot bring the Halliburton-subsidiary he accused of demoting him due to age and race discrimination to trial.
  • Forced arbitration is the reason Irene Lieber of Brooklyn, New York cannot bring MBNA, the credit card company that forced her to pay $45,000 in stolen credit card fees, to trial.

For those who want to help make sure the Arbitration Fairness Act is passed, and stories like these never happen again, the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition has set up an easy-to-use website. The site not only calculates who your member of Congress is, but places the phone call, so you don’t even have to dial the number or worry if you’re calling the wrong office.

Here’s how it works:

1. You go to this website: http://bit.ly/arbitrationfairnessact which has been set up by the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition and sponsored by Workplace Fairness.
2. You enter your name, address, phone number, and zip code, then click “submit.”
3. Your two Senators and local Representative will be listed. Choose one of them and select “call now.”

(If it seems easy so far, you’re right. It is!)

4. Review the short script which starts, “Good day. I am a constituent and…”. This is a suggested script you can use when calling the representative’s office.
5. When you are ready to place your call, click “place call”, found at the top of the page.
6. A few moments later you’ll be pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call at the phone number you entered in step two. It will be a short recorded message from Paula Brantner, from Workplace Fairness and the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition, thanking you for your help and reminding you to mention that you are a constituent when you talk to your representative’s office.

(If you’re like me and you’ve never placed a call to a Congressional office you might be a little nervous at this point. But that’s ok. Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is democracy in action and making these calls is exactly how we do our part to get this bill passed.)

7. After Paula’s short message DON’T HANG UP. The Click-to-Call system will place a call for you directly to your selected Congressional office.
8. An office assistant will answer. Tell them you are a constituent and simply follow the script from step four.
9. Make note of the Congressional representative’s current position on the Arbitration Fairness Act, as well as the name of the person you spoke to and any additional comments, then click “submit your response.” The info will be submitted to the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition.
10. Be sure to go back and call your other two members of Congress.

You might be afraid of these 10 steps. But not to worry. You don’t need to know how to contact your Senator or Representative before making the call. You just need to visit http://bit.ly/arbitrationfairnessact and be willing to help put an end to forced arbitration with the Arbitration Fairness Act.

Fine print: by reading this blog entry you retain all your rights.

About the author: Brett Brownell is a New Media Fellow with the New Organizing Institute and Workplace Fairness, and was a blogger and videographer for the Obama campaign’s new media team.

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