May 21, 2018 – Today, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in Epic Systems Corp. v Lewis (NLRB v. Murphy Oil and Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris) that deals a significant blow to the fundamental right of workers in this country to join together to address workplace disputes. For over eighty years, the National Labor Relations Act has guaranteed workers’ right to stand together for “mutual aid and protection” when seeking to improve their wages and working conditions. However, today’s decision clears the way for employers to require workers to waive that right as a condition of employment.
The use of mandatory arbitration and collective and class action waivers—under which workers are forced to handle workplace disputes as individuals through arbitration, rather than being able to resolve these matters together in court—makes it more difficult for workers to enforce their rights. These agreements bar access to the courts for all types of employment-related claims, including those based on the Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act. This means that a worker who is not paid fairly, discriminated against, or sexually harassed, is forced into a process that overwhelmingly favors the employer—and forced to manage this process alone, even though these issues are rarely confined to one single worker.
Today’s decision undermines the National Labor Relations Act and further erodes workers’ rights and freedoms. Workers depend on collective and class actions to combat race and sex discrimination and enforce wage and hour standards. It is essential to both our democracy and a fair economy that workers have the right to engage in collective action. Congress must act to restore this fundamental right and ban mandatory arbitration agreements and class and collective action waivers.
EPI is an independent, nonprofit think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States. EPI’s research helps policymakers, opinion leaders, advocates, journalists, and the public understand the bread-and-butter issues affecting ordinary Americans. www.epi.org