U.S. Supreme Court Damages Labor Rights by Ruling that Employers Can Legally Prevent Employees from Joining Together in Class Actions

Employers vs. employees — one of the core societal conflicts plays out again, benefiting management over labor as usual. Perhaps the solution is to make the employees the collective employer, so that the workers themselves can democratically decide who is hired and fired and what workplace provisions are applied. In any case though, it’s a serious affront to labor rights, with the law of contracts — a conservative pillar of democracy before modern “conservatism” turned into an ideology trying to justify giving as much money to rich people as possible — being further worsened.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dealt a blow to worker rights, saying that employers can bar their employees from banding together to challenge workplace abuses including wage theft and sexual harassment.

MSNBC host and legal analyst Ari Melber summed up the 5-4 decision (pdf) by tweeting: “Supreme Court rules that you have the right to your day in court, unless a corporation effectively makes you give up that right.”

Political activist Zephyr Teachout, meanwhile, said the decision “is terrible news for workers in America,” as it makes “it harder for employees to get a fair hearing when they are screwed.”

When employers mandate arbitration clauses, employees must act as individuals to challenge alleged workplace abuses, and are thus barred from gaining strength in numbers through class action suits to challenge corporate power. In the cases before the high court, employers had argued they had the right to impose such contracts under the Federal Arbitration Act, while employees argued they had the right to take collective action under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion, and read a summary of her dissent aloud—”something justices do only rarely to signify their objections,” USA Today reported.

Ginsburg called the decision “egregiously wrong,” and asserted: “Recognizing employees’ right to engage in collective employment litigation and shielding that right from employer blockage are firmly rooted in the NLRA’s design.”

She further noted that made “to face their employers without company, employees ordinarily are no match for the enterprise that hires them. Employees gain strength, however, if they can deal with their employers in numbers. That is the very reason why the NLRA secures against employer interference employees’ right to act in concert for their ‘mutual aid or protection.'”

“The inevitable result of today’s decision ,” she added, “will be the under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers.”

EPI’s McNicholas urged Congress to take action to prevent that from happening.

“It is essential to both our democracy and a fair economy that workers have the right to engage in collective action,” she stated. “Congress must act to restore this fundamental right and ban mandatory arbitration agreements and class and collective action waivers.”

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