February 28, 2019 / 7:08 PM / 3 months ago

Google workers support proposed U.S. laws to curb mandatory arbitration

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Six Google employees on Thursday joined U.S. lawmakers to support bills that would ban mandatory arbitration in employment and consumer contracts, as the workers seek to build on recent success in getting the Alphabet Inc company to drop some arbitration provisions.

Mandatory arbitration, which prevents people from taking disputes to court, has become a big target for workers' rights activists in recent years. They have expressed concern that requiring private arbitration helps businesses facing harassment and discrimination allegations to avoid public scrutiny.

"We cannot have an honest conversation about labor rights or restoring consumer protections until we pull back the curtain of forced arbitration, which denies employees and consumers of their ability to fully and publicly vindicate their rights," Tanuja Gupta, a New York-based Google employee said during a news conference in Washington on Thursday.

The Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act and several pieces of related legislation would ensure individual and class-action lawsuits are an option in a variety of disputes, members of Congress said at the news conference.

Business groups have said arbitration provides timely resolutions and that lawsuits benefit lawyers more than plaintiffs.

Democratic lawmakers have attempted to curtail mandatory arbitration before but have struggled to gain support from Republican colleagues.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said he expects the FAIR Act to at least pass the Democrat-controlled House this year.

"This bill is about guaranteeing every individual their day in court," Blumenthal said.

Andy Phelan, a spokesperson for Representative Hank Johnson, who has long backed arbitration changes, said tech workers harmed by such provisions had never before appeared at a bill introduction.

Last week, Google became the latest of a handful of tech companies to announce it would no longer require employees to arbitrate employment disputes.

Thousands of Google workers briefly walked off the job in November as part of a demonstration organized by Gupta and a few others to advocate for workplace policy changes, including on arbitration.

Google declined to comment on employees' support of legislative changes. (Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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