Wednesday, January 27, 2016

235.8 - Outrage of the Week: forced arbitration

Outrage of the Week: forced arbitration

You want something to look for, to consider when hoping for innocence among politicos? See what they have to say, if anything, about one of the biggest unappreciated and little considered scandals of US economic life. It's called forced arbitration and it is our Outrage of the Week.

I've been meaning to bring this up for some time, so I'll take this opportunity.

As explained by the Alliance for Justice,
[a]rbitration is a process in which a private firm is hired to settle a dispute without going to court. It was designed as a voluntary alternative to litigation among corporate equals. It has been twisted today into a tool by powerful corporations to force consumers and employees to surrender their right to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing before an impartial court.
Dozens and dozens of major companies in dozens of fields from telecommunications to credit cards, student loans, nursing homes, consumer goods, home builders, financial advisors, and of course software and more contain these noxious provisions, as do many employment "agreements."

To use the service, to buy the product, even to get the job, you must agree to a "contract" in which you sign away your rights and your access to the courts, including - perhaps most especially - your ability to be part of a class action suit.

That is, arbitration has gone from being a voluntary process between equals to a requirement, a demand, put by the more powerful on the less powerful, effectively rendering them powerless. Clauses requiring arbitration of any dispute between the consumer or employee and the corporation and banning any resort to the courts, arbitration to take place at a site specified in the contract by the corporation and done by an arbiter hired by the corporation, are now routinely buried in the fine print of any "agreement" you thoughtlessly make when you click on "accept these terms."

The result is that if a dispute arises, you have to face the corporation alone and on its own turf and its own terms - first assuming that what you could achieve is even worth the time and expense, which is why, as the Alliance for Justice has said, forced arbitration gives corporations "a free pass to break the law" because they know there is little if any chance they would be held accountable even for gross violations of employment and civil rights laws.

And the practice is expanding: The New York Times recently reported on how debt collection agencies are using forced arbitration provisions in the debts they buy to claim that they, too, are covered by those provisions even though the consumer has no contract with the debt collector - and courts are going along with this perverted logic that you can be bound to the terms of a "contract" with some agency you never had any contact with or even knew existed.

There is a bill that has been introduced in Congress. It's called the Arbitration Fairness Act and it would ban forced arbitration of employment, consumer, anti-trust, and civil rights claims and restore at least some of the rights of workers and consumers to seek justice in the courts.

So the next time some politico tries to tell you how concerned they are about the economy and you, ask them if they agree with outlawing forced arbitration. Ask them if they will support outlawing forced arbitration. If they hesitate, if they start to dance, if they say anything other than a direct "yes," tell them to buzz off because they are not on your side but on the side of Big Business.

And it's an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

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