Supreme Court Deals Major Blow to Labor Rights

The cost of Neil Gorsuch’s stolen seat on the Supreme Court became readily apparent this week in a 5-4 ruling that stripped workers of the right to collectively fight back when their employers violate federal labor laws.

This ruling has significant implications for employees dealing with issues like wage theft and hours violations, but it could also spell trouble for the #MeToo Movement, where nondisclosure agreements have become a controversial topic.

Here’s what you need to know: The case heard by the court involved employees of Ernst & Young, Epic Systems, and Murphy Oil USA Inc. These employees had signed arbitration agreements, but they argued it was functionally impossible for them to fight the company on their own in the event of labor violations; it was too costly for a single person to take on a legal fight.

As a result, these employees sought class action status, which would allow them to band together with current and former coworkers to face their employers in court. The question before the Supreme Court was: Could they?

At Above the Law, Elie Mystal says two key pieces of legislation influence the answer to this question: The National Labor Relations Act and the Federal Arbitration Act.

Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion, relied heavily on the FAA, claiming the law clearly indicated that binding arbitration agreements should be enforceable. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote a ferocious dissent, drew upon the NLRA, insisting that it clearly provided a legal remedy for employees in this situation.

This ruling means that if you sign a binding arbitration agreement on the job, you may lose your right to join forces with coworkers if your employer breaks the law. Signing such agreements is required before starting work for 56 percent of U.S. workers, and people who don’t want to sign won’t be hired on. Law firms are already exploiting this ruling, setting up a convenient boilerplate for employers who want to start compelling their personnel to sign binding arbitration agreements.

This is bad news for cases where employers violate federal law by underpaying workers, exceeding hours restrictions and otherwise exploiting their workers. A single employee may not have the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to fight an employer in court.

But binding arbitration agreements aren’t just used to force employees to work with an arbiter in disputes about pay and related issues. They’re also used to suppress employees who might otherwise speak out about sexual harassment and assault on the job.

#MeToo activists have expressed concerns about the abuse of binding arbitration and how it can allow sexual abuse to flourish in the workplace — and this suit is a major blow to their efforts to fight such abuses.

This isn’t the first Supreme Court ruling to favor big business in recent years — and it won’t be the last. Slowly but steadily, conservatives on the court are dismantling the legal framework workers use to protect themselves from employers who have far more institutional clout than they do. These agreements, forced on people who may not have the option of refusing them –  either because they can’t afford to turn down employment or because they’re attached to a dream job — can carry layers of hidden implications, and some employees barely glance at them.

The ruling could impact union organizers, too: When a workplace recognizes a union, it also recognizes collective bargaining and the right to file grievances, creating workplace protections that didn’t exist before. For nonunion employees, this may be a wake-up call that organizing is worth the effort and the union dues.

Photo credit: The All-Nite Images

51 comments

Cindy S
Cindy Smith14 days ago

thanks

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Barbara M
Barbara M15 days ago

thanks for the update

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Cindy S
Past Member 23 days ago

ty

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Toni W
Toni W23 days ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W23 days ago

TYFS

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Jennifer J
Jennifer J24 days ago

Thank you

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Mary F
Mary F24 days ago

Eventually we will find all of our rights will be chipped away! More than a wee bit frightening!!

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Winn A
Winnie A24 days ago

:-(

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Winn A
Winnie A24 days ago

Petition Signed

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Julie D
Julie D24 days ago

Of course they now have the majority in the Supreme Court, and are doing all they can to remove all of the rights protections and freedoms we have, in every regard. Fascism has come to America, and it is thriving, and nothing is being done to stop it.

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