Or: A Conservative United States Supreme Court Once More Attacks Basic Employment Rights
In the matters of Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, Ernst & Young, LLP v. Morris, and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil, USA (“Murphy Oil”), the message of the conservative-dominated Bush-Trump Supreme Court to American workers is: rights? What rights?
These rulings allow employers to sidestep federal labor laws intended to guarantee workers’ rights. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the majority decision “egregiously wrong.” Neither the law, nor judges, use the term “egregious” lightly. And she’s right. Here’s what happened, and here’s why it should outrage you, regardless of whom you supported in the last few Presidential or Congressional elections. If you have a job, or love someone who does, this concerns you.
In the early 20th century, American workers fought, were beaten, imprisoned and in many cased died for the right to act to organize and collectively resolve grievances or improve working conditions. The conditions that spawned the union movement are not ancient history. They continue today, worse than ever. Systemic wage theft, wage & hour abuse, prevailing wage abuse, harassment, discrimination and other abuses continue to be the modus operandi of many American employers; employers only encouraged in their abuses by a conservative Congress and a President who mocks workers, lies to them, abuses them and disrespects them.
Today, the American Supreme Court, stocked by conservative, anti-worker presidents over decades, delivered another crippling blow to the dignity of American workers.
The employers in the Murphy Oil trio of cases above were accused of illegally withholding overtime pay or other compensation in violation of wage and hour laws. In each case, after the workers banded together and sued in federal court, as they are entitled to do under federal labor laws, the employers used the fine print in their employment contracts to force each worker to go it alone in separate arbitration proceedings, where each gave up their precious, Constitutional right to a trial by jury.
Attorneys who represent working people opposed this position. Class and collective actions are about mutual aid and protection, and spreading costs and risks. They are a cherished method of holding large wrongdoers accountable. Arbitration, on the other hand, is a way to take away rights, to make sure employer-friendly people hurt the rights of workers, and a way to prevent Constitutional justice from being done. It’s rank intimidation. It’s disgusting. In excess of 80 percent of America’s top companies already have arbitration policies in their employment contracts, nearly half of which also ban workers from participating in class, collective, or joint legal actions. After today’s misguided ruling, even more employers will be emboldened to follow suit.
Maybe this doesn’t bother you because it hasn’t hurt you yet. But it will.
It’s time to act, whether you’re red or blue. If you work, your right to work, and to support your family, in dignity, your right to a trial by jury, and your right to organize, are more important than any other political issue, when you vote. Or when you call your congressional representatives. Call your representative and demand consideration and passage of the Arbitration Fairness Act (H.R.1374, S.537), which would stop employers’ abusive practice of forced arbitration and class waivers.
This is only the beginning. This reactionary-dominated Court isn’t going anywhere. Congress – and the president – aren’t accountable to Corporate America. They’re accountable to the people.
Hold them to it.