The National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) joined with 26 other organizations to submit an amicus brief to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). At stake is the right of employees to join together for collective and class actions. This long-recognized right is under attack by forced arbitration agreements in which companies demand that all their employees give up these rights as a condition of employment. “An employer’s requirement that its employees prospectively waive their rights to engage in concerted legal activity about their conditions of employment is as much a violation of section 8(a)(1) as a ‘yellow dog contract’ prohibiting unionization altogether,” the brief argues.
In this case, the D.R. Horton company is attempting to use a recent Supreme Court decision to block collective actions by employees. In AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), a 5-4 majority held that companies can use the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) to block consumers from bringing class action arbitrations. However, the Supreme Court was looking at California’s attempt to hold such arbitration agreements unconscionable. The Supreme Court did not consider the effect of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. § 157, which specifically protects the right of covered employees to act in concert for their mutual aid and protection. Courts have long held that this federal right specifically protects the right of employees to join together in legal actions against their employer. Eastex Inc. v. NLRB, 437 U.S. 556, 566 (1978). No union is necessary for employees to be protected when they act in concert. Brady v. NFL, ____F.3d ____, 2011 WL 2652323 at *10 (8th Cir. July 8, 2011). Still, it would be good if Congress would enact the Arbitration Fairness Act (AFA) to prohibit companies from forcing any arbitration agreements on consumers or employees.
Special thanks go to attorneys Michael C. Subit (of Frank Freed Subit & Thomas LLP in Seattle, Washington), Victoria W. Ni (of Public Justice in Oakland, California) and Rebecca M. Hamburg (of the National Employment Lawyers Association in San Francisco) for leading the organizing and writing for this brief.