Supreme Court ruling curtails worker rights

The U.S. Supreme Court building stands in Washington on April 10, 2018. (Bloomberg photo by Al Drago).
The U.S. Supreme Court building stands in Washington on April 10, 2018. (Bloomberg photo by Al Drago).

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has sharply restricted the rights of American workers to join with others to challenge their company for allegedly violating federal laws on wages, hours or civil rights.

The justices by a 5-4 vote Monday agreed with Trump administration lawyers on two key issues.

First, workers do not have a right to go to court to sue over alleged violations of federal workplace laws. They must accept industry-sponsored arbitration.

Second, the arbitration rules may require employees to bring their complaints as individuals and not as part any group or class.

About 60 million nonunionized workers in the private sector are covered by arbitration agreements that bar them going to court to sue over alleged violations of federal workplace laws, according to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal leaning group based in Washington.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch delivered the court's opinion in Epic Systems vs. Lewis and said Congress had decreed that arbitration clauses must be enforced.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent in court. She said the court upheld "these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave it contracts" even though the labor laws of the 1930s have recognized "there is strength in numbers."

The Obama and Trump administrations took contrasting stands on the case as it moved through the courts.

Obama lawyers agreed with Democratic appointees on the National Labor Relations Board that labor laws from the New Deal era gave workers the right to join together to protect themselves. They pointed to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which said workers may join a union or "engage in other concerted efforts" to protect themselves.

Based on that law, they said companies may not enforce arbitration clauses that bar workers from joining together to challenge a company's policies or work rules.

By contrast, Trump administration lawyers joined with pro-business advocates in favor of binding arbitration. They relied on the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, which said contracts that call for setting disputes through arbitration "shall be valid, irrevocable and enforceable."

The Supreme Court conservatives have often cited the Arbitration Act, even though the more specific workers' rights laws were passed later by Congress during the 1930s and the 1960s.

 

 

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