News Journal:After Google walkout, will workers begin to take back their rights?

About 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout early this month and management caved in to their demands. I think it was a significant event, a small ray of hope that workers may be able to win back some of the rights the courts and corporations have taken from them in the past few years.
We haven’t seen many cases of a large company’s employees winning an argument with management since the 2008 recession, or even for quite a few years before that. When finding a job is tough, corporations tend to take advantage of their leverage.
Even though there have been major advances in productivity during the past 30 years, for instance, employees’ wages have remained essentially constant. What’s more, it has become common corporate policy to insist that new employees sign agreements that limit their rights.
One policy that has become common is called forced or mandatory arbitration. The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, issued a study by Cornell Professor J.S. Colvin in late 2017 that is worth quoting at length:
“More than half of private sector nonunion workers — or 60 million people — are subject to mandatory arbitration in employment contracts, which takes away their access to the court system that protects their legal employment rights.
Colvin continued: “Mandatory arbitration agreements are used by employers to require employees, as a condition of employment, to agree to arbitrate legal disputes rather than being able to go to court. In other words, when a worker is paid less than she is owed, is fired for being pregnant, or is underpaid because of her race, she cannot have her claim heard in a court of law—instead, she is locked into a process that favors the employer.”
Data collected by Colvin shows that after the crucial 1991 Supreme Court decision called Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane which upheld the enforceability of mandatory employment arbitration agreements, the share of workers subject to mandatory arbitration increased from just over 2 percent to now exceeding 55 percent.
The EPI also found that “forced arbitration limits victims’ access to legal representation, as attorneys are less likely to accept cases before arbitrators than those tried in court, given the far lower success rate. The average positive outcome for arbitration plaintiffs is only 16 percent of that in federal courts and 7 percent of that in state courts. And the median awards in employment litigation are up to five times greater than median awards in employment arbitrations.”
The Google walkout was a protest against mandatory arbitration in cases involving sexual harassment, and the company agreed to end the practice. It was a small victory, but a victory none the less, especially since it happened shortly after the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in May of this year, took away even more employee rights.
The majority decision was the first major opinion written by new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The Washington Post reported: “Law experts are calling it the most significant business ruling of this year’s term. But for workers, say lawyers who represent them, the decision is a ‘devastating blow’ that will effectively end the ability of millions of workers to band together and challenge their employers on everything from wage disputes to discrimination to sexual harassment claims…The court’s decision this week means employees who sign [mandatory arbitration] agreements must fight alleged violations individually, rather than as a group.”
Calling the decision “egregiously wrong” in her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “The court today holds enforceable these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave-it contracts — including the provisions requiring employees to litigate wage and hours claims only one-by-one…Expenses entailed in mounting individual claims will often far outweigh potential recoveries” and “fear of retaliation may also deter potential claimants from seeking redress alone.”
The deck has now been stacked so heavily in favor of employers that the Google walkout may be a sign of things to come in the foreseeable future. Given the nearly certain 5-4 Supreme Court majority that will consistently be against protecting consumers and employees, taking to the streets may be the only effective way to force corporations to back away from policies that deny workers’ rights.