Brown should sign bill to protect worker rights

If you’ve ever signed a job application, you’re familiar with the overly technical fine print. What you may not know is an arbitration agreement hidden in the fine print nullifies your rights to seek justice in a court of law if your boss sexually harasses you, cheats you out of pay or commits a host of other abuses.

Sign the job application, lose your rights – most often without even knowing it.

In workplaces across California, this scheme is becoming more commonplace. Big corporations such as the one that owns Pizza Hut are including an agreement that, if signed, binds the employee to the employer’s rigged arbitration system for virtually all disputes. It’s called forced arbitration because workers don’t have a choice in the matter if they want a job.

Companies, particularly those in low-wage industries, are using forced arbitration to insulate themselves from having to answer claims on wage theft, sexual harassment, worker safety and other abuses in a court or before state agencies.

While arbitration works well among parties of equal bargaining power, it has failed to provide justice to low-wage workers forced into the system. Workers prevail in just 21 percent of these arbitration cases compared to more than 50 percent in state and federal court cases. Further, when workers get a rare win in arbitration, the amount of damages is significantly less.

The Legislature tackled this issue with Assembly Bill 465, which would prevent big corporations from forcing arbitration on working people. The bill is on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.

Despite false claims by corporate lobbyists, this bill doesn’t ban arbitration agreements, which are protected by federal law. Instead, the measure simply requires any waiver of basic labor protections must be knowing and voluntary. It also makes it illegal for employers to fire workers who choose not to sign away their rights. That’s common-sense reform that’s long overdue.

Gov. Jerry Brown has the opportunity to protect low-wage workers across the state by signing this bill into law. He has prioritized workers’ rights – especially protections for low-wage workers most vulnerable to exploitation – throughout his administration and he can build on that legacy by signing AB 465.

You should never be forced to sign away your rights as a condition of a job. Not only is that unfair, it’s un-American.

Art Pulaski is executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation.

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