Trump Administration Executes Labor Law U-Turn, Telling Justices Mandatory Arbitration Overrides Workers Rights

WASHINGTON—The Republican Trump administration has executed yet another labor law U-turn, telling the U.S. Supreme Court that mandatory arbitration overrides worker rights to defend themselves via class action suits.

In a brief filed at the last minute on June 16, Trump’s Solicitor General’s office asked the justices to uphold arbitration in three cases, with the leading one involving Murphy Oil workers.

The court already agreed to hear the arbitration-vs-labor law cases in its next term, starting in October, but it hasn’t set a date yet. The Obama administration, defending the National Labor Relations Board – which has been ruling against arbitration and for worker rights to class actions in dozens of cases – had urged the justices to side with the NLRB.

In the Trump U-turn, “courts must enforce agreements to arbitrate federal claims unless the Federal Arbitration Act’s mandate has been overridden by a contrary congressional command or unless enforcing” it “would deprive the plaintiff” – in these cases, the workers – “of a substantive federal right,” the administration said.

“Neither of these justifications is applicable here. The agreements” between the firms and the workers involved “including their prohibition on class-wide or collective proceedings, should therefore be enforced,” it argued to the justices.

The Trump reversal left the board, and the workers in the three cases, out in the cold. Labor law professors noted that Trump’s administration will let the NLRB defend itself when the justices hear the cases. In a statement, the board said it intends to do so.

“This reading of the two statutes is a sharp departure from the government’s position” last October when it asked the justices to take the arbitration cases, Harvard law professor Melissa Greenberg wrote in the On Labor blog.

Then, she said, the Solicitor General – and the NLRB’s own lawyers, who co-signed that petition — argued that “the ability to engage in concerted activities under the National Labor Relations Act is not a mere procedural means for vindicating some other statutory right. It is…the core substantive right protected by the National Labor Relations Act and is the foundation on which the act and federal labor policy rest.”

Source: PAI