While much of organized labor’s focus this Supreme Court session has been on the Janus v. AFSCME decision, another labor decision has also been in handed down in Epic Systems v. Lewis. While it doesn’t directly affect unions, it shows the danger workers may face when not organized in a union.
Workers brought forward cases defending their right to sue their employers over federal labor law violations in class action suits rather than settling individually in binding arbitration. As a condition of employment, they had to waive their rights to join a class-action suit. However, the legal fees of bringing a case forward individually would dwarf the amount of money employees were seeking to recover.
The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the companies, citing the Federal Arbitrations Act from 1925 that allowed these cases to be settled in arbitration. The judges that dissented argued that this act came well before modern federal labor laws, and it shouldn’t be applied to “arm-twisted,” “take-it-or-leave it” provisions of employment.
This could mean more employers move to including binding arbitration as a condition for employment, strengthening their power over workers. And apart from just wage violations, this ruling applies to case of discrimination in the workplace based on gender, race and religion. Given the fear of retaliation and the non-disclosure agreements usually included in these arbitration agreements, the ruling serves to further silence workers against these dangerous issues in the workplace.
How does this affect unions?
These employees weren’t union members. By definition, unions are organized labor that rely on strong contracts and solidarity. However, that doesn’t mean it has no effect on unions. In fact, it’s a prime example of just how important unions still are. As federal labor laws are weakened by these court rulings, unions continue to be not only relevant, but critical, across all industries.
Read more about the ruling on NPR.