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Bill Introduction Shows Lawmakers’ Commitment to Restoring Workers’ Access to Court

Statement of Christine Hines, Legislative Director, National Association of Consumer Advocates

About a year ago, lawmakers beholden to Wall Street and big-business interests, with help from Vice-President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking Senate vote, elected to reverse a federal agency rule that would have restored consumers’ right to band together in court against powerful financial industry interests. The majority’s decision to wipe away ordinary people’s access to court upheld a get-out-of-jail-free card for corporations to cheat and rip-off their customers. A year later, with today’s introduction of the Restoring Justice for Workers Act (RJWA), H.R. 7109, we are encouraged that some congressional members remain committed to reinstating Americans’ access to legal remedies.

The RJWA would amend the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to ensure that corporate contracts cannot block workers from banding together in class or collective actions to seek remedies for harm caused by their employers. This bill would be a welcome step forward in helping workers hold powerful corporations accountable in today’s employment market.

Forced arbitration clauses are pervasive in corporate contracts with consumers and workers. They bar access to court, require disputes to be settled in private and secretive arbitration proceedings, and likely prohibit participation in class actions. In the workplace, forced arbitration clauses keep serious claims of discrimination and harassment or even systemic wage theft hidden from public view and scrutiny.

The U.S. Supreme Court has broadly interpreted the FAA to allow the widespread use of forced arbitration and class action bans against consumers and workers. In Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis decided in May, the Court held that employers can enforce forced arbitration clauses that prohibit workers from participating in class or collective actions, a reversal of the previous position held by the National Labor Relations Board.

It is in Congress’ hands to revive access to justice for workers and consumers. The National Association of Consumer Advocates strongly supports the Restoring Justice for Workers Act. We will enthusiastically work with Rep. Nadler and other lawmakers to secure passage of this bill and others that aim to restore consumers’ and workers’ ability to go to court to seek remedies when they are harmed.

We invite you to read: Fair Arbitration Now coalition’s letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler and NACA’s report marking one year since Congress reversed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s arbitration rule.