Ahead of President-Elect Biden’s inauguration in January, employers have a preview of what is likely to come in the form of stronger union and employee rights. On February 6, 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2019 (commonly known as the “PRO Act”), which contains ambitious changes to the current labor landscape. Changes include expanding the scope of joint employer under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), narrowing the definition of “supervisor” under the NLRA, expanding the right to strike to include secondary boycotts among other strikes, and providing additional avenues for workers to participate in collective or class actions. While the Senate has not acted on the bill since it was passed by the House, employers would do well to keep an eye on the revival of the PRO Act or any similar legislation. As an update to our recent blogpost on the PRO Act (here), we highlight two changes below that threaten employers if the PRO Act becomes law.
Banning Class Action Waiver in Arbitration Agreements
The PRO Act amends the NLRA to prohibit any employer attempt to execute or enforce any agreement whereby an employee promises not to pursue any class or collective actions. Notably, this provision in effect would overrule the Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems Corporation v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612 (2018). The Epic Systems Court held that an arbitration agreement waiving the right to proceed collectively under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is enforceable, subject to generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, unconscionability, or duress. Moreover, the Court held that a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement did not violate employees’ rights under the NLRA. In contrast, the PRO Act’s amendments to the NLRA specifically provide that notwithstanding the Federal Arbitration Act (the federal statute authorizing arbitration agreements), an employer’s attempt to enforce class action waivers in an arbitration agreement would be an unfair labor practice under the NLRA.