Tag Archives: arbitration

A truly Epic failure for workers

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He just turned 50 last year…

Free speech in the workplace has been discussed heatedly in the wake of the cancellation of “Roseanne”and a new rule prohibiting NFL players from kneeling during the national anthem. Parties on both sides in the culutrue war have argued that employees don’t have freedom of the speech on the job. While that is generally true, the National Labor Relations Act gives employees some rights of speech and associationon the job. But a recent Supreme Court case could have paired back those rights.

In Epic Systems v. Lewis the United States Supreme court held in a 5-4 decision that neither the National Labor Relations Act  nor the savings clause of the Federal Arbitration Act  prevents enforcement of arbitration clauses that preclude class or collective actions against employers by their employees.

As many commentators and the dissent pointed out, the Epic decision will make it more difficult for workers to band together to address wage and hour violations. Individually, even with attorney fees available, it is not economical for employees to pursue individual cases of wage theft if those individual cases amount to a relatively small amount. An example of such a case were the so-called “donning and doffing” cases pursued against various meat packing plants in the Midwest.

Employers have won some major victories in the area of wage and hour law this Supreme Court term. Epic follows on the heels of a decision making it easier for employers to prove they are exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act

But Epic could impact labor and employment law beyond just wage and hour law. Here are a few ways Epic could impact more than just wage and hour law. This list is not inclusive and Epic is probably worth more discussion, but I wanted to discuss the broader implications of this case and bring up lesser discussed but important implications of this case.

What is a protected concerted activity?

The National Labor Relations Act protects protected concerted activity for the mutual aid of co-workers that goes to the terms and conditions of employment. The employees argued that participating in a collective action case under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the five Justice majority, disagreed. Gorsuch wrote that the NLRA only covered activities that employees do for themselves, not class action litigation. What concerned me more, was Gorsuch’s  use of a “canon”of statutory construction to hold that seemingly broad language in the NLRA about it employees being able to engage in collective activity for “mutual aid and protection” only applied to forming labor unions and other activities related to formal collective bargaining.

This conclusion concerned me because I have long advocated for non-unionized employees to engage in collective self-help on the job to address issues like bullying  or even accommodation of a disability.  But, as the dissent points out, association rights on the job are also protected by the Norris-LaGuardia Act (NLGA) NLGA expressly provides for a right to self-organization among employees. Though the Epic court rejected NLGA as a basis for overcoming an arbitration clause, it’s broader language could still be the basis for workplace speech and assocation rights than a paired down NLRA.

That Norris-LaGuardia would serve as backstop for employee association rights would assume the Roberts/Gorsuch court is merely following some rules of statutory construction rather than imposing their own economic preferences into the law. That might not be a fair assumption. The Federal Arbitration Act explicitly excludes employment contracts from coverage. In 2001, the Supreme Court limited that exclusion from workers in the transportation industry.  Epic would appear to further limit that exclusion in contradiction to plain and clear statutory language to the contrary.

 

Can Epic be made to benefit workers?

Epic may benefit some employees. One impetus behind using arbitration clauses to prevent class action claims is to defeat class action claims on retirement plans under ERISA. However ERISA also governs short-term and long- term disability policies. Currently, short-term and  long-term disability policies very difficult to win because courts defer to insurers on how the plans are interpreted. Some employee-benefit attorneys believe that employees will have a better chance of disability claims in arbitration.  Union-side labor lawyer, Moshe Marvit has also speculated that Epic might make it easier for employees to form unions.

Many management-side attorneys are also skeptical of arbitration  which could also prevent employers from adopting arbitration clauses.

Constitutional perspectives

So how is it that the Supreme Court can ignore seemingly plain language about the Federal Arbitration Act not applying to employment disputes? The Circuit City decision from 2001, provides one clue. In Circuit City the Supreme Court used a narrow interpretation of interstate commerce to hold that the FAA only applies to transportation employees. This holding is consistent with other holdings from the Rehnquist and Roberts courts that limit that power of the federal government to regulate through the commerce clause. (12)

Though Epic doesn’t discuss state police powers under the 10th Amendment much of the case law relied upon in Epic has to do with how the FAA pre-empts state laws preventing arbitration in certain cases. Essentially the so-called “contracts clause” which prevents laws that impair the obligation of contract.  This includes state laws enacted under 10th Amendment police powers. The Supreme Court took up a contracts clause case, Sveen v. Melin, this term.  That case could also have implications in the world of employment law depending on the language of the decision and any possible concurring opinions from the likes of Justices Gorsuch, Alito or Thomas.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Arbitration, NLGA, NLRA, Supreme Court, Wage and Hour and tagged , , , , .

First Responders, Retaliation and Labor Law

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First responders and correctional employees aren’t immune from retaliation from their employers when they turn in work injuries for the unique hazards that they face. However, most first responders, law enforcement and corrections employees have some additional job protections against retaliation. This post is meant to give first responders, law enforcement and corrections employees a basic overview of the job protections they have as union and public sector employees. Those rights can be summed up in three words: Weingarten, Garrity and Loudermill.

Weingarten Rights

Weingarten rights are named after the Supreme Court decision that holds that union members have a right to have a union official present in a disciplinary meeting with supervisors or a meeting that could lead to discipline. Though Weingarten doesn’t apply to public sector unions, most public sector unions, including NAPE/AFSCME in Nebraska, make Weingarten rights part of their collective bargaining agreement.

Weingarten rights can be trampled on when aggressive employers claim they just want to talk to employees rather than subject employees to the third degree. This can be especially prevalent in corrections and law enforcement where supervisors are trained in interrogation techniques.

If you have been subject to an interrogation like this, you need to let your union representative know right away.

Garrity Rights

Garrity rights give public sector employees, regardless of whether they are in a union or not, the right to not incriminate themselves in an investigation that could lead to discipline. Employers will give a Garrity warning similar to a Miranda-type warning. In my experience, Garrity rights can be a bit dubious. Employee misconduct that would justify termination doesn’t always rise to the level of anything remotely illegal. This is especially true if an employer is trying to manufacture evidence to retaliate against a worker. But under Garrity, an employee can be terminated for refusing to answer questions. So employees may feel compelled to answer hours of questions from trained law enforcement officials for alleged misconduct that, even if true, would not rise to anything illegal. This can be a dangerous proposition because such questioning may create the appearance of dishonesty on the part of the employee. Especially in the context of law enforcement or corrections, dishonesty can be a factor that allows an employer to skip the normal progressive disciplinary procedures.

Again, employees should reach out to their union representative if they are faced with this situation.

Loudermill Rights

Loudermill rights compel public employers to give some explanation of why they are terminating an employee and give the employee some opportunity to explain why she or he should not be terminated. (7) Loudermill applies to all government employees, not just union employees. Though Loudermill gives additional protections to what typical at-will employees have, in substance, Loudermill doesn’t afford a lot of protections. In many cases, the decision to terminate has already been made, and feedback from an employee may harm the employee’s chances of winning at a personnel board, arbitration or a wrongful-termination case.

Again, employees should be reaching out to their union representative if they are subject to what is called a Loudermill hearing.

Personnel Board and Arbitration Hearings

Government employees can usually appeal terminations to a personnel board, such as the Nebraska State Personnel Board, or have a termination heard by an arbitrator if the worker is represented by a private union. These hearings are easier for employees to win than wrongful termination cases because generally the employer has the burden to show there was just cause to terminate the employee. In civil court, the employee has the burden of proof that the termination was unlawful. Those hearings can also generate evidence that can be helpful in wrongful termination cases. In many cases, the union will pick up the cost of a personnel board hearing or arbitration.

This post has repeatedly mentioned the importance of involving a union representative and the benefits to employees of a union contract. Nebraska is what is called a “right-to-work state,” which means that employees covered under a union contract cannot be forced to pay union dues. However, if workers do not pay dues, unions may not have the resources needed to fight for their members. The opinion of this firm is that unions in Nebraska, like NAPE/AFSCME, do a good job of fighting for their members, so we would encourage public employees in Nebraska to pay their union dues.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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