Privatizing Employment Law: The Expansion of Mandatory Arbitration in the Workplace

Source: Sarah Staszak, Studies in American Political Development, First View, July 7, 2020
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From the abstract:
This article examines the institutional, political, and legal development of employment arbitration as it shifted from a Progressive Era form of justice enhancement to one co-opted by business-friendly conservatives arguably more concerned with protecting employers from litigation. While arbitration has a long history in the United States, the expanding use of mandatory, employer-promulgated arbitration clauses has more than doubled since the 2000s. In examining the nature of the shift, this article argues that it occurred through a gradual process of conversion in three institutional realms (1) legislative conversion, (2) private-sector conversion of public regulation, and (3) judicial conversion. Facilitated by a growing divide among Democrats on the value of arbitration, conservatives began to promote it in the 1970s and 1980s as backlash to the expansion of statutory employment rights. I argue that they did so by converting the institutional infrastructures of labor and commercial arbitration, a process continued by the private sector and Supreme Court. As such, this article argues that conversion is the product of multiple actors targeting multiple institutions, over decades, and with consequences for both the literature on institutional change and conceptions of equality under the law.