CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY NOW!
Working families have won important victories on a range of workplace rights and consumer protection standards in the past five years.
Responding to organizing by working people, policymakers have enacted dramatic increases to the minimum wage, paid sick and family leave, equal pay guarantees, and protections against predatory payday and auto loans – delivering real benefits for our communities.
However, enforcement of these new standards remains a challenge. Traditionally, workers and consumers could file lawsuits to hold lawbreakers accountable. Most of us have lost the right to go to court, now that powerful corporations are burying forced arbitration provisions deep in the fine print of contracts.
Corporations and their political allies are denying more than 60 million people – half the American workforce – their right to challenge their employer in court.
These hidden clauses strip away our rights to utilize our public justice system to sue, to participate in a class action lawsuit, or to appeal, and completely stack the deck against employees and consumers. Companies use arbitration to hide wrongdoing: women who experience sexual harassment are often forced into arbitration, which silences them from speaking out.
This is why we need Corporate Accountability Now!
With the federal government refusing to protect Americans from corporate abuse, we want our policymakers to ensure that public enforcement can hold corporate wrongdoers accountable.
For example, by silencing whistleblowers who would file private lawsuits, forced arbitration leaves public agencies solely responsible for policing violations of labor laws. Strict federal preemption prohibits states from regulating arbitration clauses – but we can take action to increase Vermont’s enforcement capacity.
Modeled on an ancient legal practice known as qui tam, and California’s successful Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), we are calling on lawmakers to enact a law that can:
- Authorize private citizens, especially employees, who have been harmed by unlawful practices to initiate a public enforcement action on behalf of the state. The state can then choose whether to intervene or let the whistleblowers manage the litigation on the state’s behalf.
- Expose company-wide violations and collect penalties on behalf of all affected consumers or workers.
- Collect millions in civil penalties from lawbreakers. Most of the penalty revenue would go to the state, with a portion retained by the whistleblowers who brought the suit. California’s Department of Labor receives approximately $5 million in PAGA revenue each year.
- Preserve access to courts. The public enforcement action is filed in the name of the state and all affected residents, as the state’s way of enforcing its laws. Because the lawsuit doesn’t arise from the contract between the company and a consumer or employee, courts have ruled that these claims can’t be forced into arbitration.
Your legislators need to hear from you so that they understand the need to hold corporations accountable – now!