High Court Strips Class Action Rights for Workers


Much has been made in recent months about the Supreme Court’s pending ruling in the “Janus v. AFSCME” case that could devastate public sector collective bargaining. But this week, the nation’s high court – led by its newest member – showed that decision is not the only one workers need to worry about.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, whose nomination to the bench last year was opposed by the Teamsters, delivered the deciding vote and authored a blistering decision that bars workers from banding together to challenge violations of federal labor laws. Gorsuch stated that the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act trumps the National Labor Relations Act and that employees who sign employment agreements to arbitrate claims must do so on an individual basis.

“The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written,” Gorsuch wrote. “While Congress is of course always free to amend this judgment, we see nothing suggesting it did so in the NLRA — much less that it manifested a clear intention to displace the Arbitration Act. Because we can easily read Congress’s statutes to work in harmony, that is where our duty lies.”

Writing for the opposition, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the result of the ruling will be a significant under-enforcement of state and federal laws designed to protect workers. It is now up to Congress, she said, fix the problem and bolster worker rights.

Workers are having a tough time as it is. As stated here before, the nation’s 65 million workers currently scraping by in low-paying service jobs have few ladders to career success. As technology and globalization have increasingly taken hold, many traditional middle-class jobs that used to support a family have vanished.

By halting the ability of non-union workers to join together in class-action lawsuits and have their grievances heard together, a majority at the Supreme Court is dismantling a system that has worked as a check on big business for decades. It is just the latest example of conservative forces stripping away the rights of workers.

Of course, joining a union is a sure-fire way to ensure greater worker protections remain in place. It may not be an issue hardworking Americans think about, but with more anti-worker decisions likely to be handed down by the courts and Congress, it needs to be considered.

The Teamsters and other unions stand and defend their members from maltreatment on the job. It’s what they do.