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Dec. 19, 2009

Senate Vote Will Hold Military Contractors Accountable, Protect Employees Who Are Victims of Sexual Assault

Statement of David Arkush, Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

In a move that will give employees of defense contractors rights they should have had all along, Senate lawmakers today voted to deny contracts to companies that force arbitration on employees who are sexually assaulted at work. Under a provision sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that was placed in the defense appropriations bill approved today, the federal government will not hire defense contractors that impose forced arbitration on their employees for Title VII violations and sexual assault tort claims. Thanks to Sen. Franken’s hard work and grassroots pressure from activists, this important provision – which now has cleared both the House of Representatives and the Senate – will soon be signed into law.

At least 40 women working for civilian military contractors have come forward to report sexual abuse, assault and discrimination in the mostly male barracks overseas. These women suffered a second time by being forced by their employers into a secretive, biased system of arbitration.
Sen. Franken’s amendment will restore for these employees the opportunity to seek justice in public court when they suffer workplace discrimination or sexual assault carried out or permitted by the employer. Thanks to Sen. Franken, U.S. military contractors will no longer be above the law.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed the Franken amendment, defending the big defense contractors like Halliburton instead of the employees enduring abuse. In a letter to Congress, the Chamber said the Franken amendment would “set a dangerous precedent.” The U.S. Chamber has been a strong advocate for the broad use of forced arbitration.

The public strongly disagrees with the Chamber. A poll conducted earlier this year by Lake Research showed that 6 of 10 likely voters oppose forced arbitration. And more than 125,500 people signed our petition to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue. That petition, sponsored by Public Citizen, MoveOn.org and other organizations, urged the Chamber to stop lobbying to permit defense contractors to strip their employees of legal rights when they are sexually assaulted on the job. 

No employee or consumer should be forced into arbitration for any reason. Public Citizen supports the Arbitration Fairness Act (H.R. 1020/S. 1782), which would end the use of forced arbitration in employment and consumer contracts. We urge Congress to restore access to justice for all employees and consumers by passing the Arbitration Fairness Act.  Meanwhile, we applaud the restoration of rights for defense contract employees who experience sexual assault and discrimination, and we look forward to President Barack Obama signing this provision into law.

 

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