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Lawmakers look to ban arbitration

Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., has reintroduced a bill that would prohibit the enforcement of mandatory arbitration clauses against employees and consumers.
The Arbitration Fairness Act of 2013, introduced this month as S. 878, provides that “no predispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment dispute, consumer dispute, antitrust dispute or civil rights dispute.”
The proposed amendment to the Federal Arbitration Act seeks to undo a series of business-friendly decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court which culminated in its ruling in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. In Concepcion, the court held that the FAA preempted a state law ensuring the availability of classwide consumer arbitration.
“Mandatory arbitration can be a huge disadvantage to consumers, workers and small businesses, often limiting their ability to have any meaningful legal recourse when they are wronged,” said Franken in a press release. “I’ve reintroduced the Arbitration Fairness Act to ensure that people and small businesses maintain their right to their day in court when they are cheated.”
Franken also introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act in 2011, but that bill stalled in Congress. A similar measure introduced in 2009 likewise failed to gain any steam. As in those past efforts, the current bill is anticipated to face strong opposition from business groups lead by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who introduced the companion bill in the House (H.R. 1844), believes that there is an urgent need to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act.
“Forced arbitration clauses undermine our indelible constitutional right to take our disputes to court,” Johnson said in a press release. “They benefit powerful business interests at the expense of American consumers and workers.”
The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) announced its support in conjunction with Franken’s introduction of S. 878 on May 7.
“The Arbitration Fairness Act is necessary to end the insidious practice of employers requiring vulnerable workers —  from minimum wage employees to U.S. servicemembers to highly compensated executives — to give up their rights under federal, state, and  local anti-discrimination and other worker protection laws in order to get or keep their jobs,” said NELA President Patricia A. Barasch in a statement.
A number of public interest groups have announced their support of the Arbitration Fairness Act in an open letter addressed to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The coalition of supporters includes the National Association of Shareholder and Consumer Attorneys, AFL-CIO, American Association for Justice, ACLU, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, NAACP, National Association of Consumer Advocates and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.