Breaking from union arbitration

U.S. Supreme Court building

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Seems nowadays, arbitration is more and more replacing judge and jury. Arbiters looking at disputes between credit card companies and cardholders, car dealers and consumers -- even labor disputes between employer and employee. There's one case before the U.S. Supreme Court today that looks at whether members of a union can go to court even if their union had signed off on arbitration. Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer tries to make sense of it.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: Non-union workers who agree to arbitration when they're hired have to take workplace disputes to an arbitrator. It's different if you're in a union that's agreed to mandatory arbitration. Since the union -- not the individual worker -- agreed to arbitration, workers can still go to court.

Alan Hyde teaches law at Rutgers University:

Alan Hyde: If you ask the union to help out, the union might be able to resolve the situation. But you don't have to -- it's your call. I think this case is a major threat to that.

The Supreme Court case involves three former night watchmen at 14 Penn Plaza in New York. They belonged to the Service Employees International Union. In 2003, they were re-assigned to less desirable positions as porters and cleaners. Younger workers were brought in as night watchmen.

The older employees said they were victims of age discrimination. They tried arbitration through their union. When the union didn't deliver, they went to court. Their employer said they had to stick with arbitration.

Jim Coppess is a lawyer with the AFL-CIO:

Jim Coppess: Generally, I think the employers don't like lawsuits. That they feel like, you know, it raises too many risks.

But employers say they like arbitration because it's a fair, efficient and less costly alternative to court. State and federal judges have ruled differently on the union arbitration question. They'll be looking to the Supreme Court for guidance.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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