Tech subcontractors left behind: How to come together against arbitration

APRIL 3, 2019 | COWORKER.ORG

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Find out what you’ve signed & do something about it together

The employees of staffing, temp, contracting and vendor agencies who work at tech companies have been left behind in the wave of changes to arbitration clauses of employment contracts this year. Coworker.org can help you figure out where that leaves you, and what to do about it. First, let’s catch up on what’s been going on.

HISTORY

Forced arbitration requires people to keep their disputes private, limits the documents that can be obtained from an employer, and restricts a worker’s right to appeal. Even the presence of a mandatory arbitration clause can reduce the likelihood that attorneys will accept a potential case for representation — and the damage awards, settlement amounts, and overall employee win rates are lower in internal arbitration.

At Google, where employees learned that several executives accused of sexual harassment had received large payouts, new hires were being asked to sign forced arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. Those agreements meant that if they experienced sexual harassment, race, age, or gender discrimination, or retaliation on the job, they would have to go through an arbitration process, rather than access the courts.

Because of the 20,000 employees that joined the #GoogleWalkout, as well as ongoing organizing efforts at the company, Google and some other large tech companies decided to remove forced arbitration as a condition of employment.

But thousands of temps, subcontractors, vendors, and employees of suppliers or staffing agencies are still working under these agreements, meaning that people working side-by-side in many of these tech companies have vastly different rights if faced with a serious situation in the workplace.

SURVEY

We’re helping people in the tech industry crowdsource information about the various arbitration agreements in use and come up with strategies for ending their use. Whatever your role in tech — consider taking this survey.

Once you know what your policy is, we can help you strategize ways to change this.

FINDING YOUR POLICY

It’s okay if you don’t know if you signed an arbitration agreement when you were hired. If you signed (or opted out of) an arbitration agreement, it will usually be in a section of your contract, employee handbook, or attached to your offer letter. This section or clause may be titled: Arbitration, Alternative Dispute Resolution, or Release of Claims. This great resource for helping you decode your agreement was put together by Google employees.

If you were not given a copy of your hiring paperwork or no longer have access to it, you may request it from your Human Resources or Employee Resources department.

Instead of directly asking about your arbitration policy, you may want to try asking for a copy of your contract because you’re organizing all your important documents and want to have them all in one place — and you realized you didn’t have a copy.

If, after reviewing your documents, you can’t tell if your contract includes an arbitration clause, Coworker.org may be able to help.

YOUR RIGHTS

Section 7 of The National Labor Relations Act protects the right of non-supervisory employees to work together to improve their terms and conditions of employment. This protection includes the right of employees to speak publicly to improve your and your coworker’s working conditions, wages, benefits, and other aspects of their employment — like your arbitration agreement.

It also protects the rights of workers to organize in many other ways including actions like: starting a petition with your coworkers, working with your coworkers to ask your employer for a microwave in the break room, removing forced arbitration for all employees, speaking to press about those issues, and other actions you believe will improve your workplace.

While these rights are usually understood as two or more employees working together, the Act also protects an individual employee acting on behalf of others. We believe that submitting your arbitration leave policy for the survey as part of a group effort to publicize and improve the terms and conditions of employment for you and your coworkers it is likely protected by the Act.

Section 7 also makes it unlawful for your employer to interfere, restrain or coerce you in any way that prevents you from exercising your rights to organize for changes in your terms and conditions of employment. Some examples of unlawful employer action include: firing you or discharging you, threatening you with losing your job or other benefits as a result of this activity, promising you increased benefits or other incentives to try and get you to stop organizing. This means that your employer cannot lawfully retaliate against you for sharing your arbitration policy.

Contact Coworker.org if you feel you’ve been retaliated against at work for sharing information about your working conditions.

One thing to keep in mind is that you should not submit other confidential information in this survey, like trade secrets, product information, or anyother sensitive material.

WHO WILL HAVE ACCESS TO THIS SURVEY?

We will not share any of this information with your employer. We will however, share out which tech and tech staffing and contracting companies have arbitration policies.

By filling out this survey, you are taking the first step in holding companies across the industry accountable for policies that remove rights of workers to seek justice in instances of harassment, discrimination — and getting connected with support.

Coworker.org is a global platform to advance change in the workplace. Our platform makes it easy for individuals or groups of employees to launch, join, and win campaigns to improve their jobs and workplaces. You can start your own campaign for changes you want to see in your workplace here at Coworker.org, or contact us at info@coworker.org if you would like to discuss a workplace issue with our team.

LABOR   WORKERS RIGHTS   STRIKE