While much of the attention in Congress has focused on arbitration in securities transactions, the evils of consumer arbitration cover a wide spectrum of consumer transactions. It’s very important to do everything possible to put pressure on Congress of the public is going to win the arbitration battle. Simply put, our elected officials need to know how forced arbitration hurts folks and that it won’t be tolerated. The American people are finding arbitration clauses in every conceivable consumer transaction.
Buried in the fine print of everything from credit card, cell phone and nursing home contracts to employee handbooks and online user agreements are dangerous forced arbitration clauses that take away a person’s right to go to court. Instead they are forced into a private arbitration tribunal designed by the very corporation that broke the law. The process is secretive, costly and rigged so that corporations cannot be held accountable. By removing access to justice, it grants corporations a license to steal and violate the law.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court, which incidentally created the problem in the first place, has refused to correct the situation, this abusive practice can only be stopped by Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) have introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2013 (AFA) to restore Americans’ rights. This legislation, if passed, will stop corporations from forcing people into arbitration and ensure that citizens’ rights are not eliminated by the fine print in a document. So far, 18 Senators and 22 Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. Hopefully, others will elect to join them.
When Americans lose access to the courts, corporations can get away with the worst sort of conduct, and that’s been proven. These clauses often target society’s most vulnerable such as nursing home patients. While there is strong opposition to the bill in Congress, the legislation is badly needed. If passed, the AFA would:
• Eliminate forced arbitration in employment, consumer, civil rights and anti-trust cases;
• Ensure that the decision to arbitrate is truly voluntary;
• Restore the constitutional right to a jury trial;
• Restore fundamental rights created by state and federal laws that are currently at risk of being wiped out by forced arbitration.
Most folks don’t even know that they have been forced into arbitration. Even fewer realize how many different laws can be affected by arbitration. There are a large number of very important federal laws that can be affected adversely by forced arbitration. When a consumer signs an arbitration clause, and later has to submit a claim to forced arbitration, he or she will learn for the first time how the process works. The person who serves as arbitrator is most often not a stranger to Corporate America. The arbitrations depend on the work in arbitration from an economic perspective and that creates an uneven playing field for ordinary folks.
The American people don’t have to give in to this corporate assault on their basic rights. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to trial by jury and that right has been under assault. In years past. At one time, this right under the 7th Amendment was considered one of the most important rights enjoyed by the American people. But attacks in the civil justice system have changed that view to some extent. The Arbitration Fairness Act would put an end to forced arbitration clauses and would restore the individual’s right to decide how to pursue disputes with powerful corporations. Make sure your members of Congress know where you stand. If you want a level playing field for consumers and ordinary folks, contact your Senators and House members and ask them to support the ARA.
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