A group called Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration has launched a public awareness campaign about mandatory arbitration agreements, saying employers use them to suppress workers facing harassment and discrimination. According to a blog post the group wrote on Medium, “Ending forced arbitration is the gateway change needed to transparently address inequity in the workplace.”
New to labor organizing, these Google employees were part of the November walkout of 20,000 employees protesting the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment claims. The group felt the small changes the company made fell short of the organizers’ demands, and they intend to broaden the fight.
From 9am to 6pm eastern time on Tuesday, the group posted information about arbitration on a dedicated Twitter account, while an Instagram account posted testimonials from both experts and survivors of sexual harassment and assault. The goal of the social media effort is to drive awareness of the fine print in arbitration clauses, mobilize workers to call on Congress to act,and encourage employees at other companies to take up the fight.
In forced arbitration, a company requires a consumer or employee to submit any dispute that may arise to binding arbitration as a condition of employment or buying a product or service. The employee or consumer is required to waive their right to sue, to participate in a class action lawsuit, or to appeal. Forced arbitration is mandatory, the arbitrator’s decision is binding, and the results are not public.
“This isn’t just a Google issue. If they all have these arbitration agreements, then there is really is no way for employees to negotiate,” says Vicki Tardif, a staff linguist on Google’s search team, who organized and spoke at the Google walkout in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The group’s social media campaign represents gains for tech’s labor movement because it involves employees of several companies in addition to Google. In December, they requested copies of employment contracts from colleagues at Facebook, Uber, other tech companies, and third-party contractors to understand how widespread the forced arbitration practice is among tech employers.
After the November walkout, CEO Sundar Pichai said Google would no longer require arbitration, but only in cases of sexual harassment, not discrimination, and only for individual claims, not class-action lawsuits. Lawyers representing women who sued Google, Uber, and Twitter called the change superficial since harassment and discrimination are often inextricably linked and because it precluded class action, which has shown to be a catalyst for industry wide change on other labor issues.
In a blog post announcing the social media blitz, the employee group wrote, “The change yielded a win in the headlines, but provided no meaningful gains for worker equity, nor an actual change in employee contracts or future offer letters. (As of this publication, we have confirmed Google is still sending out offer letters with the old arbitration policy.)”
- Employee contracts from several tech companies were evaluated against three criteria: that arbitration be optional; that employees be allowed to bring class actions; and that employees be allowed to speak out about their claim. None met that criteria.
- According to the Economic Policy Institute, more than 55% of the American workforce is now subject to mandatory arbitration – up from just 2% in 1992.
- Google CEO Sundar Pichai follows 330 accounts on Twitter, and @EndForcedArb is not one of them. That may change.
Quests and Actions (Q&A)
- In July last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation banning forced arbitration for sexual harassment, and similar laws are on the books in Washington and Maryland. How can this change happen without government intervention?
- Identify reasons to keep forced arbitration, and then identify reasons to end forced arbitration. How do the reasons compare?
- Take action by supporting the Restoring Statutory Rights Act, which would bar forced arbitration in a wide array of employee disputes. Let your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative know. An alternative is to support the Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration campaign.