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Representatives Newman, Bustos, Jayapal and McBath Lead Lawmakers In Urging President Biden To End Forced Arbitration For Federal Contractors

June 17, 2021

A total of 40 lawmakers urge administration to protect workers on federal contracts from forced arbitration, which historically has left private-sector, non-unionized workers in unsafe, unfair and discriminatory workplaces

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Marie Newman (D-IL-03), Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07) and Lucy McBath (D-GA-06) led 36 other members of Congress in a letter to President Biden urging him to issue an executive order to protect all workers who work on federal contracts from forced arbitration. The letter outlines how forced arbitration clauses can leave millions of private-sector, non-unionized workers less safe at work as they are left without a fair means to seek justice when they have been subjected to workplace discrimination. The lawmakers urged President Biden to use his executive authority under the Procurement Act to further ensure these forced arbitration clauses no longer threaten the progress that has been made towards safer and fairer workplaces. 

“Hidden in employee handbooks and contracts, forced arbitration clauses enable corporations to break the law and evade public accountability by funneling cases into secret tribunals that are designed to be rigged against workers. Prohibiting this practice on federal contracts is the only way to ensure the federal contractor workforce is treated fairly under the law,” said the lawmakers. “We urge you to address these injustices impacting federal contractors by issuing an executive order protecting all workers who work on federal contracts from forced arbitration.” 

In the letter, the lawmakers note that due to the unequal playing field for workers that forced arbitration creates, 98 percent of workers subjected to forced arbitration with an employment claim will abandon their claim, while only two percent will proceed with forced arbitration. This leaves millions of workers with no meaningful path for justice after experiencing discrimination and sexual harassment at work. 

“Forced arbitration allows corporations with federal contracts to violate their employees’ civil rights and get away with it. It deprives workers of the protections they would have in court, and disproportionately impacts women, particularly women of color. When forced into arbitration, victims of harassment, discrimination and other misconduct find themselves in a system that is overwhelmingly white and male, where they are more likely to be struck by lightning than win,” said Linda Lipsen, CEO of the American Association for Justice. “The federal government should not be footing the bill for contractors using this rigged system.” 

As of 2018, forced arbitration clauses impacted 56.2 percent of private-sector, nonunion workers, meaning more than 60 million workers lacked meaningful access to justice. Women, especially women of color, continue to be subjected to pervasive sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. And Black women are also disproportionately subjected to forced arbitration, and therefore have diminished access to justice and recourse for discrimination. 

Using his executive authority under the Procurement Act, President Biden can ensure the U.S. Department of Labor and Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs prohibits forced arbitration for complaints of any form of discrimination for contractor employees who work on federal contracts. 

Today’s urgent call to action is endorsed by national organizations, including the American Association for Justice, Earth Justice, Economic Policy Institute, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Employment Law Project, National Women’s Law Center, Public Citizen, and Public Justice. 

The letter is signed by U.S. Representatives: Alma S. Adams, PhD, Karen Bass, Suzanne Bonamici, Julia Brownley, André Carson, Matt Cartwright, David N. Cicilline, Jim Cooper, Madeleine Dean, Rosa L. DeLauro, Mark DeSaulnier, Debbie Dingell, Lloyd Doggett, Jesús G. "Chuy" García, Jahana Hayes, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr, Barbara Lee, Andy Levin, Alan Lowenthal, Carolyn B. Maloney, James P. McGovern, Grace Meng, Jerrold Nadler, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley, Mike Quigley, Jamie Raskin, Deborah K. Ross, Jan Schakowsky, Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Jackie Speier , Rashida Tlaib, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Nikema Williams, and John Yarmuth. 

A full copy of the letter can be found here

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