For many years, workers’ rights advocates have endeavored to strengthen both public and private enforcement of workplace protections. In the area of greater enforcement by public agencies, the goal has been to increase the resources and support for enforcement initiatives. With respect to enforcement by “private attorneys general,” the goal has been to remove the barriers to private lawsuits – including banning pre-dispute binding mandatory arbitration imposed by employers as a condition of employment.
These efforts, however, have been stymied due to the general public’s lack of understanding about the issue. For too many years, businesses’ special interests have been successful at convincing people that both public and private enforcement of workplace and other protections are ineffective at best and wrong-headed at worst. The prevailing attitude is that “government is the problem, not the solution”; all problems can and should be solved by the 'free market"; and all lawsuits are brought only to "line the pockets of the greedy trial lawyers."
But with a financial crisis that has bankrupted the economy and the culture of deregulation along with it, the need for strengthening workplace and other legal protections for ordinary Americans is evident. Recent polling by Lake Research Partners (LRP) demonstrates that half of voters now agree with the statement “government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest,” compared to 38% who believe “government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.” The number of voters who think there is “too little government regulation of business and industry” has increased considerably since President George W. Bush took office (from 17% to 45%).
Similarly, in April 2008, an American Association for Justice (AAJ) poll of 800+ adults found that most Americans said they disapprove of consumer contracts with binding arbitration provisions. When consumers who were initially supportive of mandatory arbitration learned this meant that they must give up their right to take their case to court and that the company picks the arbitrator, two in three disapproved of mandatory arbitration. The AAJ data indicates that an overwhelming 81% of the survey respondents expressed disapproval of binding mandatory arbitration. Additionally, the poll found that 64% supported the proposed Arbitration Fairness Act (which would prohibit pre-dispute mandatory arbitration in consumer and employment contracts), while only 26% opposed it. The poll revealed no statistically significant difference in support among Democrats and Republicans.
Given the current climate, a President with a civil rights and constitutional law background who is committed to reinvigorating the role of government as a force for the public good, as well as a new Congress that values workers and understands the role of government in advancing the public interest, The Institute has a unique opportunity to shape a progressive agenda that gives real meaning to our country’s workplace protection laws and regulations.