Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

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Get Back Your Right To Take Your Bank To Court

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Wall Street, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and right-wing Republicans are ganging up again this week against consumers who want to hold financial institutions that rip them off accountable.

The target this time is a rule issued this week by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that is designed to restore the ability bank and credit card customers, as individuals or as a group, to take a financial dispute to court.

“Our new rule will restore the ability of groups of people to file or join group lawsuits. In some cases, not only will companies have to provide relief, they will also have to change their behavior moving forward,” said a statement issued by the agency. “People who would otherwise have to go it alone or give up, will be able to join with others to pursue justice and some remedy for their harm.”

However, unsurprisingly, it took less than a day for the guardians of Wall Street profiteering to attack the rule. They are the same people – like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., in the Senate and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, in the House – who are working to either get rid of the CFPB entirely or render it toothless.

That’s why People’s Action is launching a petition asking Congress to keep the CFPB arbitration rule and protect the ability of ordinary people to go to court against corporate wrongdoers.

Cotton announced Tuesday that he would be introducing legislation to undo the rule under the execrable Congressional Review Act, the same tool Republicans have been using since President Trump took office to undo a host of Obama-era regulations.

Quoted in The Washington Examiner, “Cotton accused the bureau of “going rogue again” and said that the rule “ignores the consumer benefits of arbitration and treats Arkansans like helpless children, incapable of making business decisions in their own best interests.”

Reuters reported that “the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is contemplating a legal challenge and Trump administration officials are also looking at ways to kill the rule.”

Many customers don’t realize that right now, if they believe their bank or credit card customer has ripped them off or otherwise harmed them, they can’t take the matter to court.

That’s because buried in the fine print of more than 50 percent of the nation’s credit card account agreements and more than 40 percent of the bank account agreements, accoording to a 2015 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report, there’s language that says if you want to challenge wrong or unfair charges to your account, you are required to go into a binding arbitration process, rather than take the dispute to a court.

The arbitration process is rigged to favor the financial institution. When The New York Times looked at this process in 2015, it found that few customers used the arbitration process, and when they did, consumers lost roughly two-thirds of the time. The process is also explicitly designed to keep consumers with similar complaints from banding together to confront patterns of bad behavior.

Among other things, arbitration clauses shielded Wells Fargo from a class action lawsuit when its employees were creating thousands of bogus consumer accounts in order to meet sales quotas.

It’s only fair: If you steal from a bank, you’ll be brought before a judge. The same should happen if a bank steals from you – and thousands of others. That’s what the CFPB rule says.

The use of the Congressional Review Act is particularly pernicious because ff these Republicans succeed this won’t be a temporary setback. This fundamentally unfair and undemocratic practice that keeps Wall Street from being held legally accountable for its actions would be permanently locked in, because the act not only invalidates the rule but prohibits an agency from writing a similar rule in the future.

Sign this petition so Congress hears you loud and clear: Keep the CFPB arbitration rule and protect our right to challenge corporate wrongdoers in court.

Republican leaders in Congress are hell-bent on neutering the CFPB or eliminating it altogether, precisely because it takes actions like this to even the playing field for consumers going up against the financial giants.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on July 13, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah Poole is communications director of People’s Action, and has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

10 Steps to Ending Forced Arbitration

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009
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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