A glimmer of hope has opened up for consumers concerned about entire industries systemic and wholesale stripping of their right to resolve disputes by trial rather than by arbitration firms whose fancypants are bought and paid for by the corporations they’re umpiring. This ray is The Arbitration Fairness Act, and as introduced in the Senate by Feingold, Russell D. [WI], the part the bill that applies to you says:
No predispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of…a consumer dispute.
American arbitration came into being in the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925. It was created to provide a speedy alternative to courts for for businesses “of generally similar sophistication and bargaining power” to resolve their disputes. A series of supreme court decision s extended the meaning to parties lacking lots of money and lawyers, like consumers and employees, in what is termed mandatory binding arbitration. Getting a credit card, bank account, car, medical care, or in some cases, a job, is conditional upon your agreement to forgo your constitutional right to take disputes to court.
What started as a way for peers to come to a sort of expedited gentleman’s agreement has evolved into a extra-judicial system for corporations to enforce their will and protect themselves from censor. The Christian Science Monitor found that the top 10 arbitration firms decide in favor of companies 98.4% of the time. This seems hardly representative of a system between parties “of generally similar sophistication and bargaining power.”
In a previous post, we urged you to email your elected representatives. But in talking with a former congressional aide, we learned that at the end of the week, the total number of form letters is tallied and the number given to the chief of staff. Definitely do one or the other, but if you want to have more impact, and have it read by the staffer covering the issue, mail in a personal letter.
$200 termination fees are just the beginning. Protected from the reach of law, of public review, of appeal, who knows what else these companies will get up to?