House Passes ‘PRO’ Act, Which Includes Arbitration Restrictions

By Mark Kantor

Yesterday, the proposed Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 225-206 vote, with five Republicans voting Yay and one Democrat voting Nay.  The bill was sent to the U.S. Senate for consideration. 

While much arbitration-related attention in the new Congress has focused on the arbitration-only FAIR Act (for details and links, see Mark Kantor, “House Reintroduces a Proposal to Restrict Arbitration at a ‘Justice Restored’ Hearing,” CPR Speaks (Feb. 12) (available at http://bit.ly/3rze7y1)), the PRO Act contains significant provisions that, if finally enacted, would limit employment arbitration.

Most important, the PRO Act would make it an unfair labor practice for an employer to prevent employees requiring arbitration agreements that obligate an employee “not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee in any forum that, but for such agreement, is of competent jurisdiction.” 

Note that the coverage of the proposed PRO Act encompasses both employment contracts of adhesion and individually negotiated employment contracts, as well as covering individual independent contractors.  See Section 101(b) of the legislation at the act’s link above.

Section 104 of the PRO Act would override Epic Systems v. Lewis,138 S. Ct. 1612 (May 21)(available at https://bit.ly/2rWzAE8), with respect to employment arbitration and class proceedings. 

According to the accompanying section-by-section analysis released by the House, “ . . .  on May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court held in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis that … employers may force workers into signing arbitration agreements that waive the right to pursue work-related litigation jointly, collectively or in a class action. This section overturns that decision by explicitly stating that employers may not require employees to waive their right to collective and class action litigation, without regard to union status.”  (The analysis is available at https://bit.ly/2OGrKNj).

The ultimate Senate fate of the PRO Act is linked to the fate of the filibuster.  As Politico states:

But the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which advanced mostly along party lines, is unlikely to win the 60 votes needed for passage in the narrowly controlled Senate. And already, some union leaders — who hold outsize sway in the Biden administration — are amping up pressure on Democrats to eliminate the filibuster so they can see one of their top priorities enacted.

Eleanor Mueller and Sarah Ferris, “House passes labor overhaul, pitting unions against the filibuster,” Politico (March 9) (available at http://politi.co/3vbgFEu). For the latest on the limited prospects for overturning the filibuster in the Senate, see Burgess Everett, “Anti-filibuster liberals face a Senate math problem,” Politico (March 9) (available at http://politi.co/2ObVou0). 

The filibuster affects large swaths of proposed legislation coming out of the House of Representatives and the Biden Administration agenda. We can anticipate daily media attention to every word any member of Congress or the administration speaks about the topic for some time to come.

The operative PRO Act text in Sec. 104 overriding Epic Systems reads as follows:

(e) Notwithstanding chapter 1 of title 9, United States Code (commonly known as the ‘Federal Arbitration Act’), or any other provision of law, it shall be an unfair labor practice under subsection (a)(1) for any employer—

“(1) to enter into or attempt to enforce any agreement, express or implied, whereby prior to a dispute to which the agreement applies, an employee undertakes or promises not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee in any forum that, but for such agreement, is of competent jurisdiction;

“(2) to coerce an employee into undertaking or promising not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee; or

“(3) to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against an employee for refusing to undertake or promise not to pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any kind of joint, class, or collective claim arising from or relating to the employment of such employee: Provided, That any agreement that violates this subsection or results from a violation of this subsection shall be to such extent unenforceable and void: Provided further, That this subsection shall not apply to any agreement embodied in or expressly permitted by a contract between an employer and a labor organization.”;

Also, according to the proposal’s section-by-section analysis, PRO Act Section 109(c) would create a private right of action in U.S. federal court if the NLRB fails to pursue a retaliation claim.

(c) Private right to civil action.  If the NLRB does not seek an injunction to protect an employee within 60 days of filing a charge for retaliation against the employee’s right to join a union or engage in protected activity, that employee may bring a  civil  action  in  federal  district  court. The  district  court  may  award  relief  available  to employees who file a charge before the NLRB.

Yesterday’s hearings have gone viral via fiery words backing the act’s passage by Tim Ryan, D., Ohio, who chided Republicans for failing to support workers.  “Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers in the United States of America!” shouted Ryan in the House chambers, adding, “Heaven forbid we tilt the balance that has been going in the wrong direction for 50 years!”

Republican opponents immediately fired back, saying that the bill would hurt workers by hurting business and the economy. For details, see Katie Shepherd, “Tim Ryan berates GOP over labor bill: ‘Stop talking about Dr. Seuss and start working with us,’” Washington Post (March 10) (available at http://wapo.st/3bz2YaF).

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Mark Kantor is a member of CPR-DR’s Panels of Distinguished Neutrals. Until he retired from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, he was a partner in the firm’s Corporate and Project Finance Groups. He currently serves as an arbitrator and mediator. He teaches as an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center (Recipient, Fahy Award for Outstanding Adjunct Professor). He also is Editor-in-Chief of the online journal Transnational Dispute Management. He is a frequent contributor to CPR Speaks, and this post originally was circulated to a private list serv and adapted with the author’s permission. Alternatives editor Russ Bleemer contributed to the research.

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Roundup: Legislation with Mediation or Arbitration…Maybe for the future?

By Elena Gurevich

According to Congress.gov, the official website for U.S. federal legislative information, and Govtrack.us, an organization that tracks legislation and votes, several bills have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate this year that touch upon arbitration or mediation.

Out of five bills introduced, only one deals with mediation as well as arbitration. Although (according to Govtrack) it is highly unlikely that these bills will be passed by the present Congress, they might get a shot in the future under a different Congress.

H.R. 156—Labor Relations First Contract Negotiations Act of 2017. The bill, introduced on Jan. 3 by Rep. Gene Green, D., Texas, has a prognosis of passage of 1%, according to Govtrack, whose projection estimates are supplied by Skopos Labs, a New York software company. The bill amends the National Labor Relations Act to address initial contract negotiation. Specifically, the bill requires mediation if an employer and a newly certified union have not reached a collective bargaining agreement within 60 days. “Either the employer or the union may request binding arbitration if the parties have not reached an agreement within 30 days of selecting a mediator.”

See https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/156.

H.R. 832—Arbitration Transparency Act of 2017, with a 3% chance of passage, requires that an arbitration proceeding between a consumer and a financial institution, in a dispute involving a consumer financial product or service, must be open to the public. It was introduced Feb. 2 by Rep. Michael Capuano, D., Mass.

See: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/832?r=10

H.R. 1374—Arbitration Fairness Act of 2017 was introduced on March 7. The bill prohibits a predispute arbitration agreement from being valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights dispute. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson, D., Ga., has a 3% chance of passing, according to Govtrack.

See: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1374?r=7

  1. 542—Safety Over Arbitration Act of 2017 was introduced on March 7, with a current prognosis of 9%. The Congress.gov summary says the bill “prohibits the use of arbitration whenever a contract between an individual and another party requires arbitration to resolve a claim or controversy alleging facts relevant to a hazard to public health or safety unless all parties to the controversy consent in writing after the controversy arises.” The sponsor is Sheldon Whitehouse, D., R.I.

See: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/542?r=22

  1. 647—Mandatory Arbitration Transparency Act of 2017. The bill has only a 2% chance of passing in this Congress, according Govtrack and Skopos Labs. The bill amends U.S.C. Title 9 on arbitration. According to the Congress.gov summary, the bill “prohibits predispute arbitration agreements from containing a confidentiality clause regarding an employment, consumer, or civil rights dispute that could be interpreted to prohibit a party from: (1) making a communication in a manner such that the prohibition would violate a whistle-blower statute; or (2) reporting or making a communication about tortious conduct, unlawful conduct, or issues of public policy or public concern. But the prohibition shall not apply if a party can demonstrate a confidentiality interest that significantly outweighs the private and public interest in disclosure.” Richard Blumenthal, D., Conn., is the sponsor.

See: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/647

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The author is a CPR Institute 2017 Fall Intern.

Congress Responds Rapidly to Block CFPB Rule Banning Mandatory Arbitration Clauses

On Monday, July 10, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced its new rule preventing banks and credit card companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses in new customer accounts.

On Tuesday, July 11, and as predicted on “CPR Speaks,” Congress moved to stop the CFPB final rule. Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton announced he was drafting a resolution to get the new CFPB rule rescinded using the Congressional Review Act. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, Chair of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, is reported to be considering a similar step.

The newly popular 1996 Congressional Review Act—see the “CPR Speaks” link above–provides expedited  procedures through which the Senate may overrule regulations issued by federal agencies by enacting a joint resolution.

Characterizing the CFPB as having gone “rogue,” and its new rule as an “anti-business regulation,” Cotton is stressing the benefits of arbitration, as well as consumers’ capacity to make business decisions.

Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R., Texas, is also publicly criticizing the rule as bureaucratic and beneficial only to class action trial attorneys. He is urging Congress to work with President Trump to reform the CFPB and excessive administration by government. As also mentioned in yesterday’s post, in April Hensarling proposed H.R. 10, the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, which would repeal the CFPB’s authority to restrict arbitration. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

It remains to be seen whether the CFPB’s new rule will survive these and other potential congressional and court challenges. Much will depend upon the Senate and how many Republicans switch sides on this issue. Please stay tuned to this space for important developments.