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  • CA Governor Jerry Brown Signs Pro-Worker Bill Limiting Out-of-State Arbitration
    Posted On: Sep 27, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, September 27, 2016

    California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1241 this weekend, placing limits on agreements requiring workers to waive their rights to challenge employers in the court system.  The bill specifically bans arbitration clauses which force California residents out-of-state.  Former WeWork employee and now activist Tara Zoumer had to go all the way to New York in order to have her case arbitrated:

    [Tara Zoumer]: “Because employees have better rights and stronger rights in California, it is increasingly unfair for me to have to travel to another state that has less favorable laws, or even arbitrators who might not be as familiar with California employment law.  It does feel a bit like a Band-aid on a really large open wound, but it is a step in the right direction.”

    Forced Arbitration agreements often prevent workers from being able to take part in class-action lawsuits over issues such as wage and hour violations, instead bringing the case before an arbitrator hired by the employer.

    Workers are often required to sign the agreements as a condition of employment:

    [Tara Zoumer]: “That’s a moment that’s burned into my soul probably for the rest of my life is walking into a conference room where your managers set up just a stack of papers, an empty chair, a pen, and then called people in one at a time to sign over fifty pages of really complex, legally binding documents.  And asking them to sign on the spot, telling workers that ‘These are all standard documents; you should trust us; we’re all just getting on the same page.’  And the language is completely glazed over from what you are actually signing.  In my case the new agreement that they had was called an ‘employee dispute resolution program’, which is a very cute name for stripping you of your rights.”

    Zoumer says she and her co-workers fell into three different categories:

    [Tara Zoumer]: “There were those who didn’t know the implications of what they were signing, those who felt they had no choice, and then there’s always the category of people who really couldn’t afford to make any other decision.  And that’s really what people are faced with, but people need to start taking a stand because they’re being taken advantage of.  Arbitration is basically a private court system that is starting to compete with our actual courts, and one that actually favors employers far more than it does employees who already have limited resources to actually fight back.”

    Zoumer described the signing of SB 1241 as a small victory in the larger battle over forced arbitration agreements:

    [Tara Zoumer]: “I’m very, very proud to have Governor Jerry Brown support this.  I think it’s really important, and I hope to see more politicians also begin to favor citizens over corporations.  I hope at some point in the future there’s a Supreme Court ruling limiting forced arbitration in this way.  No one should be forced to give up their rights.”

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