The New York Times has published a devastating three-part exposé by reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Robert Gebeloff and Michael Corkery showing the gory details of how corporations use the fine print of take-it-or-leave-it terms to deny consumer rights.
These forced arbitration clauses block ripped-off consumers from holding corporations accountable in a court. Instead, consumers are routed into the rigged system of private arbitration, where decisions are in the hands of corporations’ handpicked arbitrators instead of impartial judges. These arbitrators, who depend on the corporations who set these terms for repeat business, have every incentive to rule against consumers. Their rulings are final – they are not required to allow appeals. Appallingly, there is no public record of these decisions, and they do not have follow precedent or the law.
Even worse, forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print increasingly ban class-action lawsuits. This makes these terms a “get out of jail free card” for corporations with large numbers of customers, who can get away with small-dollar rip-offs. Customers of a company that uses a forced arbitration clause to ban class actions have no means for collective action against unfair charges.
Take action today: Tell Congress to ban forced arbitration.
Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, penned an op-ed for The Hill to bust the tenacious myth that blames regulatory “inefficiency” for agency delays.
It is Congress, not the agencies, that deserve the blame for delays. Narang makes his point with a telling example:
In what can only be described as the height of absurdity, The Washington Post reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken an astonishing two years to propose a rule that simply removes the term “midget” as one of the acceptable designations for small raisins. Adding to the absurdity is the fact that it is not at all the USDA’s fault that this process is taking so long — and there is nothing the agency can do to speed it up.
As the story notes, the real reason the USDA has taken so long is because, like all federal agencies, it has had to comply with a rule development process that is a labyrinth of complex and redundant legal and analytical requirements. Congress has only added to these requirements over the years without ever removing any of them or streamlining the process. The result is a broken regulatory system where agencies are unable to produce regulations in a timely and efficient manner and where government waste and inefficiency abound.
By Nicole Arbabzadeh
There are matters that complement the core ideology of all political parties so well that lawmakers across the political spectrum should be working hand-in-hand to achieve the policies. The Arbitration Fairness Act and the Court Legal Access and Student Support (CLASS) Act, which would restore public’s rights to hold wrongdoing corporations accountable in court, are examples of exactly the kind of legislation that should transcend the partisan divide. And yet, partisanship has been a continuous roadblock to their implementation.
So let’s start by reviewing forced arbitration clauses and their devastating consequences for the constituents of all party affiliations. If you’re asking yourself, “What’s forced arbitration?” you’re certainly not alone. According to a recent study conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), three-quarters of respondents who understood the meaning of forced arbitration did not know whether their credit card contract contained a forced arbitration clause and a mere 7 percent of respondents whose credit card agreements did contain forced arbitration clauses correctly understood that they could not sue in court. These are startling findings considering that the CFPB’s study also found that the vast majority of prepaid card companies, private student loan lenders, and cell phone providers, and the list goes on, include a forced arbitration clause in their terms. These clauses block consumers’ access to public court and force harmed consumers into inherently biased and secretive arbitration proceedings as a condition for obtaining services.
And financial services consumers aren’t the only targeted group – most ordinary Americans are affected by arbitration clauses, as they are often forced upon employees, small businesses, nursing home residents, and college students, to name just a few.
Now, you may be asking, can arbitration clauses really be that bad? Well, forced arbitration:
1. Robs Ordinary Americans of their Hard-Earned Cash
On August 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted 3-2 in favor of a final rule requiring public companies to disclose CEO pay as a multiple of the median-paid employee. The rule was mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, but languished at the commission for five years.
Commissioner Michael Piwowar voted against adoption of the final rule. He said “ideologues” and “bullies” pressed the SEC to carry out this mandate.
Public Citizen members and supporters appealed to the SEC to adopt this rule, which was mandated in 2010. (Yes, laws from Congress often require agencies to translate them for industry before they become enforced, but the time lag on this rule was ridiculous.) To achieve the success of the SEC following-through with a congressional mandate, Public Citizen worked in concert with the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Institute for Policy Studies, As You Sow, the Teamsters and other members allied with Americans for Financial Reform. We count, apparently, among the “bullies” that Commissioner Piwowar complained about. Our chief weapon — the written and spoken word (with an occasional Facebook graphic).
The rule itself is intended to confront economic bullying, namely, the diversion and concentration of corporate income into the bank accounts of senior managers. The SEC’s final rule final rule harnesses shareholder pecuniary interests to help arrest the runaway CEO pay that’s part of yawning income inequality in America. The SEC’s important action drew front page media attention in the Washington Post, stories in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CBS, Fox, etc.
With the new SEC rule in place, investors can better determine if CEO at company X is overpaid compared to the CEO at peer company Y.