By: Zack Duvall
Several major hearings about laws dealing with workers’ rights and arbitration contracts and policies in the workplace are expected to get underway as the Supreme Court returns from its recess in October.
Many leftist groups are claiming that with the new administration there are growing concerns that new laws and policies will be aimed at protecting employers rather than the individual worker, something White House officials deny.
However, there is current court proceedings that see representatives from federal agencies on both sides of the arguments to be made before the court, a rarity that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsberg spoke about during a lecture to first year law students at Georgetown University last week.
“We will have two arguments by government representatives on opposite sides of the issue. That will be a first for me in the 25 years I’ve served on the court.” Ginsberg said during her remarks.
The two major hearings set to take place in October revolve around the right for workers to file collective or joint lawsuits against employers for any workplace violations or disputes as opposed to being bound to arbitration contracts and the ability for unions to collect fees from non-union workers in order to fund union activity that may or may not directly impact them.
The National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that is largely considered to be staffed with union supporters, is bringing both cases before the court and the Justice Department is opposing that agency in those cases.
Under Obama, the Justice Department was leaning in favor of the workers’ rights groups and union leaders, however after Jeff Sessions took over, the department has since made clear its reversal on those issues through numerous public statements, including one from the solicitor general’s office last month about the change in policy.
“The office reconsidered the issue and has reached the opposite conclusion.” The office said in the statement about the latest change by department officials.
Newly appointed Justice, Neil Gorsuch, has been very balanced when ruling on cases involving workers’ rights, with a principled approach to ruling on cases that even Democrats had a hard time criticizing during his Senate confirmation hearings last Spring.
However, left-leaning activist groups say that with the current feelings of the court rulings in the cases are expected to be 5-4 in favor of the Justice Department.
Such a ruling would only hold employees to contracts that they willingly sign and would stop the forced payment to unions by workers who opt out of the organization and its dealings. Those workers however, in many cases, may still benefit from policies negotiated by the unions with their employer that impact the overall work environment.
Many conservative pundits point out that, historically, the court has remained differential on these issues for decades, often deferring to local courts to rule on the issue and in the cases that they did hand down an opinion, said such matters were contractual issues involved with the hiring and employment process and not a judicial matter.
Which makes questionable the criticism of the current administration in this matter when by all points of review the White House is simply maintaining what the courts have always said, you cannot not judicially regulate the workplace.
The arbitration process has been a vital tool for employers to resolve workplace disputes without having to go through major financial strain because of those disputes going through the courts, with 54% of businesses using arbitration clauses in contracts with workers last year alone.
These contracts are signed during the hiring process and bind the employee to in-house resolution of any discrepancies and workplace related issues, and has been known to protect companies from frivolous, or baseless, lawsuits brought on by spiteful or former employees. Potentially saving these companies millions of dollars in legal fees.
No comment from the President on the issue, but he has maintained that he is supportive of workers’ rights and legislation that will “promote the American worker” on the global stage.