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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Senators Take On Mandatory Arbitration

While not necessarily front-page news, the Senate held a hearing yesterday on a bill that would ban mandatory binding arbitration clauses (bear with us!) in nursing home contracts. According to an article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) worry that such clauses restrict the options available to patients and their families who receive sub-standard care at these facilities.

Former Chairman of the Republican National Committee Sen. Mel Martinez’ reasons for sponsoring this bill arise from his own personal experiences. According to the article, the senator “remembers signing a stack of documents when he briefly placed his father in a nursing home…[and] wonders if the documents included a mandatory arbitration agreement that would have prevented him from taking the facility to court if his father received bad care.”

While not a particularly sexy subject, sneaking mandatory binding arbitration clauses into employment and consumer contracts is an extremely troubling and increasingly common practice. Odds are you've signed one of these agreements yourself. When you got a new credit card, or signed up for a cell phone contract, you probably agreed to a mandatory arbitration clause buried somewhere in the fine print.

Companies foist arbitration agreements upon consumers and workers, who are given little opportunity to grasp the full implications of the agreements and little choice but to sign away their rights before a dispute even occurs. Because the company is often the one to hire the arbiters – private businesses that profit from arbitrating disputes – the result is a system of private justice that is far less fair than our courts.

Alliance for Justice is working both on local and national levels to pass legislation to ensure workers and consumers have the right to bring their claims in a courtroom. Access to our courts is a central concept in our democracy, and limiting it goes against our most basic tenets of justice. To learn more about mandatory binding arbitration, you can read our fact sheet here.

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