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United States Businesses The Courts

Supreme Court Upholds Workplace Arbitration Contracts Barring Class Actions (nytimes.com) 343

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that companies can use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues. From a report: The vote was 5 to 4, with the court's more conservative justices in the majority. The court's decision could affect some 25 million employment contracts. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said the court's conclusion was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court's precedents. If workers were allowed to band together to press their claims, he wrote, "the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace." Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, a sign of profound disagreement. In her written dissent, she called the majority opinion "egregiously wrong." In her oral statement, she said the upshot of the decision "will be huge under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well being of vulnerable workers."
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Supreme Court Upholds Workplace Arbitration Contracts Barring Class Actions

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  • I'm mostly against them, but might be okay if say the lawyer(s) were allowed a max percentage of the win, say 10% and everything else had to go directly to them below and not in the form of credits or coupons.
    • by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:10PM (#56648280)
      Would you be against them if workers had a genuine complaint and their employer generally treated them like sub-humans? Say they were exposed to toxic chemicals without their employer telling them or giving them proper protection, and are now paying through the nose to deal with health problems 20-30 years later.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by KixWooder ( 5232441 )
        I'm pretty far left and mostly anti-corporation, so to be honest I don't know what I would do. Class action doesn't seem like the best option, though, as lawyers are typically the only ones that win.
        • by jythie ( 914043 )
          One possible solution would be to shift the responsibility to prosecutors and regulators. Class Actions are a bit of a band-aid on our 'DIY justice' system where if you have a problem you have to float the cost of dealing with it, but since that was so expensive they put together class actions to distribute the cost. If enforcing regulation was actually done by regulators instead there would be no need to find ways for poor people to afford fighting well funded companies.
          • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:53PM (#56648624)

            Class actions solve the problem of having a large number of people with a small dollar issue. Individually, they are unable to take on a well funded company. Collectively, they can.
            Many people complain that the "lawyers get too much money". That's true on both sides of the dispute. The final payout to plaintiffs may be small individually but the company does take a hit which hopefully discourages bad behavior. That's why companies are so eager to ban class action suits.

        • by jbengt ( 874751 )

          Class action doesn't seem like the best option, though, as lawyers are typically the only ones that win.

          So having dozens or hundreds of trials (or, in this case arbitrations) with lawyers for each one would be better than a class action with a only few lawyers involved?

    • While I agree the lawyers can get predatory with their fees , class actions are a vital mechanism for civil society to respond to injustices or illegal behavior as a group. This is especially important for poorer folks who might simply be incapable of commissioning a lawyer to defend them , but as a group can spread out that cost and get relief in.bulk. To be honest the government should find these but yeah that ain't ever gonna happen. Rich folks , the people who don't need them and have the most to lose w

    • I've been wondering lately if we don't have the incentives all wrong...

      What if we created a corporation type that had half of all voting shares collectively owned by the employees, no matter what? Perhaps share ownership isn't the way to do it - maybe it would just be a representation matter. But the gist is that employees and owners would have equal parts in the running of the business. You could make this arrangement very tax-advantaged as a way to encourage adoption of this structure.

      Then you could extra

      • What if we created a corporation type that had half of all voting shares collectively owned by the employees

        Congratulations, you've just invented the "cooperative", specifically a worker cooperative [wikipedia.org]. There's nothing that prevents you from founding or working for one of these companies, here's a list [wikipedia.org] of active worker cooperatives in the United States.

  • by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:09PM (#56648264)
    One more reason to love unions. If you can't sue 'em, band together and strike, forcing your PoS employer to either play ball or go bankrupt. Paralysis can be a powerful weapon.
    • my problem with unions is that they raise the cost of goods, they spend money of the employee on political grandstanding. and in the case of the carpenters union my friend is in, he is FORCED to protext 2 weeks out of the year next to one of those giant rats.

      now will someone explain to me what the company or the union get out of forced non work? Why would they have it in their contract forcing people who dont want to strike and want to work to strike (non payed of course)

      that clause when I first heard
      • It's sad (so sad, it's a sad sad situation) but really fairly true that nobody else is looking out for the rights of those workers as much as their unions either.

        If we could agree on more protections for all workers (some would say, all people, but fight on one front at a time I guess) then we wouldn't need unions. But right now they're the lesser of evils.

        • the UAW almost put the big 3 auto companies out of business. I know we lost our dealership in part because of the stranglehold the UAW had on GM causing the products to be garbage compared to the imports and the german autos of the time.
          BR the company i currently work for has the option be in the union or dont, and i get paid better and have better benefits than my union co workers.

          unions had a time and a place, but their time has passed.
          • unions had a time and a place, but their time has passed.

            I agree, but only with the provision that we can't do away with them without actually instituting something better.

          • by jandrese ( 485 )
            Aren't the German automakers highly unionized as well? Blaming GMs woes exclusively on the UAW seems a bit narrow sighted.
            • Aren't the German automakers highly unionized as well?

              Far more highly unionized. Union reps sit in on management meetings, have at least one seat on the board, and the average German auto worker makes twice what the average US auto worker makes.

            • by Hodr ( 219920 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @04:22PM (#56649210) Homepage

              Being highly uninioned in a country that already implements many of the most costly demands of labor isn't exactly a huge feat.

              Union Workers - "We demand reasonable cost healthcare"
              American Businesses - "No way, we would go bankrupt"
              German Businesses - "uh, what? We don't have anything to do with your healthcare costs"

              Union Workers - "We demand 4 weeks of vacation!"
              American Businesses - "No way, we would go bankrupt"
              German Businesses - "But we already give you 6 if you count holidays. It's the law afterall"

              etc. etc. etc.

              • by Kjella ( 173770 )

                Of course being highly unionized is how a lot of this became law in the first place, if they've first given in to the union's demands it's better for them to lobby it into law so the non-union shops are stuck with it too.

    • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:54PM (#56648640)

      I personally think unions are a horrible idea. Except in America where they can only be described as essential. Most western countries exited the industrial revolution with strong workplace protections thanks to the unions of the time making the concept somewhat obsolete in the current age. Somehow this didn't happen in the USA, and the us vs them mentality along with the desire for governments to not exist and generally stay out of everyone's business is stronger than ever.

      • Unions abroad make sure that the workplace protections remain in force. e.g. in France, if the government tries to "reform" workplace protections ... time for a general strike, baby! Trains don't move, trucks don't run, city centers fill up with demonstrators, and the country grinds to a halt. Enforcement of workers' rights through mass paralysis.
        • Unions abroad suffer from a lack of relevance. They sit around collecting dues and then every few years come out and do something disproportionate over nothing. Even in France the general public are sick of them, their latest train stunt not withstanding. This is especially true in France which has some of the toughest worker protections in the world.

          In many countries they are the very image of the bullies fighting against companies trying to stay afloat. I'm probably jaded. Personally I stepped out of my u

      • by jandrese ( 485 )
        What's the alternative though? It's clear that when unions aren't present then employees get shit on. Government is an unreliable partner in this, especially as companies are growing larger than governments and work on a worldwide basis. The US government won't do anything about Nike running sweatshops in Malaysia, and this gives them the power to shop around for governments with the most permissive labor laws and restrictive union laws. People don't exist to enrich corporations.

        Without unions the bal
    • by e3m4n ( 947977 )

      im not exactly a big fan of unions, as I've seen them collect dues and do nothing in the interest of their members for years (such as a teachers union in the face of firing teachers who get paid more due to education level should they reach their _required_ masters degree before having first attained tenure). But on principle your theory works fine even without unions. If the workplace is enough to warrant a class-action, direct lawsuit, or a strike, then even a worker organized call-in-sick strike can be e

    • You could, you know, quit?
  • If you had a legitimate gripe with a company, wouldn't you individually try to get a settlement? Let's say you're 43 (like me) and work at some hipster SV web startup, and have a literal smoking-gun recording of your boss saying he doesn't like promoting old people? Or if you're a woman and some idiot salesman gets wasted at a party and assaults you in front of 50 people?

    Class action settlements don't seem like the best way to get results. In consumer class actions, the defendant "admits no wrongdoing," pay

    • by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:15PM (#56648318)

      In consumer class-actions, the loss to each consumer is often very small ... i.e. a $100 electronic device was defective.

      In cases against employers where losses from loss of income or health issues can be in the $10,000+ range, plaintiffs would get much more, even if lawyers would also profit.

      There's also the angle that the companies should be punished for their bad behavior by paying.

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      Because your gripe is sent to the arbitration "court", paid for by the company you have a complaint against. Shockingly they find against you.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:16PM (#56648324)

    If you don't like the law, then pass different legislation. The court properly upheld the law as passed by congress. To rule otherwise would make the Judaical branch into an elite legislature that wasn't elected and has no check on its power.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:16PM (#56648326)

    Gorsuch is laying out exactly what you would hope SCOTUS would do: That is, interpret the current law with as much accuracy and honesty as possible, and put the onus back on Congress to alter the law if it is bad. Ginsberg is firmly in the legislate-from-the-bench category and it is dangerous and disturbing to see.

    • by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:20PM (#56648348)

      Congress and state legislatures represent the rabble, who are often small-minded, uneducated little bigots. The proper role of the Supreme Court is to determine whether laws passsed are in line with the Constitution and general human rights.

      If the Supreme Court hadn't stepped in and "legislated from the bench" during the 1950s and 1960s, we'd probably still have legal segregation and bans on interracial marriage at the State level. Not to mention same-sex marriage would still be illegal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sycodon ( 149926 )

        Nope.

        By the 50s and 60s the Constitution had been amended so that it very clearly applies to everyone and that everyone is equal with respect to the laws and their application.

        So the decisions of the 50s and 60s that advanced civil rights are clearly within the scope of the courts.

      • Yep, the commerce clause being used to make the federal government supreme over anything the supreme court wants is really in line with the constitution ...

      • by jythie ( 914043 )
        Sad thing is, the stuff from the 50s and 60s wasn't really 'legislating from the bench', but more 'ahm, you do realize this is what the law actually says?'. Ever since the framing there has been a lot of 'wink and nod' and 'well of COURSE we didn't mean that!' that has slowly been corrected.
        • It was "legislating from the bench" in the sense that bad laws on a State level were struck down. Virginia law literally said that people of different races could be jailed if they married. The law was actually on the books (though not enforceable) until some time in the 1990s.
          • by Bryansix ( 761547 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @03:21PM (#56648830) Homepage
            That's not legislating from the bench. SCOTUS is allowed to strike down laws if they are actually unconstitutional. Legislating from the bench is like when new rights are created from thin air with no laws or constitutional evidence to back them up.
            • The Constitution is a good framework, but it's also an outdated document and not the be-all-and-end-all of personal rights that many American think that it is. The more rights given the average worker and citizen, the better! I love Ruth Bader Ginsberg because she recognizes an implicit right to privacy, even if it's not explicit to the Constitution.

              The Founders couldn't have imagined things like smartphones and Big Data in the 1700s, so the courts must adapt.

              • They didn't have to imagine those things. That's why the Constitution can be amended and new laws made. But it also prevents people from just making up "rights" and authoritatively declaring what's right and wrong. What I would love to see is Congress step up and have some of the legislation-from-the-bench justices impeached for overstepping their bounds. If something is really that good, then it should be able to get through the system as-is.
                • Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

                  Just because a right is not enumerated in the Constitution doesn't mean it isn't a right. In my experience "legislating from the bench" or "judicial activism" means "a ruling was made with which I politically disagree". For example, many conservatives consider Roe v Wade to be legislating from the bench and many liberals consider Citizen's United v FEC to be the s

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:35PM (#56648470) Journal

      As he said in the opinion, it's highly debatable of this is good policy, but it's quite clear what the law is. Congress makes law, not unelected, unaccountable judges.

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        If something is illegal, does that automatically make it immoral?

      • by Ly4 ( 2353328 )

        It's quite clear in the text of the NLRA that it applies, and it's quite clear in the text of the arbitration act ("except âoeupon such grounds as exist at law") that is secondary to other laws.

        Gorsuch just hand-waves that away with vague 'structure of the NLRB' contortions.

        To put it mildly, it's a pathetic bit of judicial reasoning.

    • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:49PM (#56648584)
      is constitutional. Forced arbitration is a clear violation of the due process clause. It sets up Kangaroo courts run by our corporate masters. A completely separate "justice" system by the mega-corp and for the mega-corp.
      • Technically it's not "forced arbitration" because one is not forced to sign the employment contract in a direct sense. However, during economic slumps or individual hard times, an individual doesn't have much practical choice: they are compelled to take any job they are offered, include those with arbitration clauses. A desperate person has no practical freedom of choice, and thus it's lopsided bargaining not much different than what the mob offers small shopkeepers: "an offer you can't refuse."

  • The most interesting part is there is nearly 50% of the country who will be glad they will now have less rights at work.
  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:25PM (#56648398)

    It's time to Unionzie! so the working man has a voice.

  • by Insanity Defense ( 1232008 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:28PM (#56648422)
    Contracts shouldn't be allowed to take away rights under the law.
  • The system has been in favor of employers for an extremely long time. Even our healthcare is a form of bondage. It doesnt matter how you come down on the healthcare debate, the fact that my healthcare is tied to my employer is a deliberate move to give employers more leverage to mistreat the employee. In any other healthcare system, whether it is socialized or otherwise, the ability to pick and choose your doctor is not tied to your employer. Once you have a decent healthcare plan and dependents, well, depe

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