Governor signs Wieckowski arbitration bills adding protections for employees, consumers

September 25, 2016

Sacramento – California Governor Jerry Brown signed a major arbitration bill by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) to protect California workers from two of the worst kinds of provisions found buried in arbitration clauses.  Gov. Brown also signed a second Wieckowski arbitration bill guaranteeing people the right to a certified court reporter in arbitration proceedings.

SB 1241 targets choice of venue provisions that require a worker to arbitrate in a different state and choice of law provisions that intentionally pick a different state’s law to control the arbitration.  This allows the companies to circumvent California law in order to disadvantage California workers.  

“This is a great victory for California workers and I am pleased the Governor signed this bill to prevent employees from having to travel across country, paying out of their own pocket, to resolve their disputes in arbitration,” said Wieckowski, a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.  “Right now the law is skewed against workers, but today’s action eliminates some of the worst arbitration clauses.”

Workers are increasingly forced to sign binding arbitration contracts just to get a job.  The contracts often limit or deny the worker’s day in court or prohibit their ability to join a class-action lawsuit.  The agreements are buried in pages of text.

“This is an important new protection for California workers who are increasingly faced with oppressive contract terms in their employment agreements,” said Mariko Yoshihara, policy director of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA).  “We applaud Senator Wieckowski’s work to make sure employers can no longer force California workers to accept the less protective laws of other states and to travel to other states to resolve employment disputes that arose in California.” 

One supporter of SB 1241 is Tara Zoumer.  She told legislative committees about her experience when her California employer set up a conference room and brought employees in to sign a stack of papers, including a binding arbitration clause.  

Zoumer was fired for refusing to sign and when she filed a wrongful termination suit against her employer in San Francisco Superior Court, she was told she must contest her case through arbitration in New York City. 

In addition to CELA, SB 1241 is supported by the Consumer Attorneys of California, the California Dispute Resolution Council, the Consumer Federation, Small Business California, the California Democratic Party and several labor unions.

The Governor also signed SB 1007, guaranteeing a party to an arbitration proceeding the right to have a certified court reporter present to create an official record.

“Consumers are frequently forced into binding arbitration if they purchase common goods or services,” Wieckowski said.  “When they go into arbitration it is critical that they have a court reporter present to create an official record.  This will protect their due process rights and provide a reviewing court with evidence of bias or misconduct if any occurs in the arbitration proceedings.”

For indigent consumers in consumer arbitration, a court reporter will be provided upon request at the expense of the non-consumer party.

Senator Wieckowski represents the 10th District, which includes southern Alameda County and northeast Santa Clara County.