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Next Wednesday is Arbitration Fairness Day

April 23, 2009

We’re no longer campaigning against “binding mandatory arbitration.”  Instead, the newly-formed Fair Arbitration Now Coalition is seeking to outlaw “forced arbitration.”  It’s the same thing, of course, but the sharpening of the terminology promises to help advocates build support for outlawing this widespread and unscrupulous practice.

Next Wednesday, April 29, has been designated as Arbitration Fairness Day in Washington, D.C.  Details about both the day, the issue, the coalition, and what you can do are available here.

As AFFIL and more than sixty other national groups explained in a letter to Congress, there is nothing wrong with arbitration if it is “agreed to voluntarily after a dispute arises.”  Rather, the Aribitration Fairness Act of 2009 (H.R. 1020, introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia ; an identical Senate version should be introduced next week by Senator Russell Feingold of Wis.)  would end the increasingly common “business practice of forcing consumers and employees into biased arbitrations by binding them long before any dispute arises.”

Unless your credit card was issued by a credit union, the fine print of your “agreement” almost certainly includes a forced arbitarion clause.  If you should get into a dispute with your credit card company, you’ll find that you have “agreed” to give up your right to bring the case to court, and that the dispute will be decided by an arbitrator — unilaterally chosen by the credit card company — whose decision is not subject to legal challenge.

AFFIL, with our focus on abusive consumer lending practices, emphasizes forced arbitarion clauses in credit card agreements.  But these clauses routinely appear in many other contracts as well, including those for cell phones, retirement accounts, non-union jobs, and nursing home and assisted living facilities.  The membership of the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition reflects the breadth of the problem, and includes groups concerned with employee rights, health rights, and civil rights, as well as consumer organizations.

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