Thousands of activists delivered an open letter to Amazon on Wednesday urging the company to free its contractors from forced arbitration.
When an employee or contractor is forced into arbitration, they waive their right to have their dispute heard in court. They also often forfeit their right to participate in a class-action lawsuit. Instead, individual claims are typically settled by a third party, and the proceedings and agreements are often kept secret. Wednesday’s letter to Amazon’s board of directors requests that the company use its shareholder meeting today to address and eliminate arbitration clauses.
“As a service that is used by millions of people worldwide, Amazon has the power to influence other companies with its actions,” the letter, created by Public Citizen, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the public interest and against corporate interests, states. “Amazon is currently seeking to build a second corporate headquarters, with one of its criteria that the location must be a diverse and vibrant environment. And as a tech company that prides itself on a progressive work environment, removing forced arbitration provisions for all claims related to the workplace and employees should be no brainer.”
Amazon told Gizmodo in February that it has never had mandatory arbitration clauses for its employees. But independent contractors are not classified as employees—a distinction that workers have fought back against. A spokesperson for Public Citizen told Gizmodo that the organization has seen Amazon court documents that reference forced arbitration. Later, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed that at least some contractors have arbitration clauses in their contracts.
Mandatory arbitration is certainly not in the best interest of workers—it discourages employees from bringing their disputes forward, and when they do, it rarely works in favor of the individual.
Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel and program director for the National Employment Law Project, told Gizmodo in November that the result of a company like Amazon effectively enforcing arbitration clauses is that “the company doesn’t feel the heat” because the settlements are private, “and then nobody else knows—Did that guy win? What happened?”
“All people who work for Amazon—as an employee, contract worker, or anyone in between—should be given the same rights and dignity to access justice if they are wronged,” Remington A. Gregg, Public Citizen’s counsel for civil justice and consumer rights, said in a press release. “As Amazon shareholders meet, they should think seriously about what type of company they want. Do they want one that is built on putting their people first, or a company that keeps policies in place that silence wrongdoers and protects corporate profits? We hope they’ll make the right choice.”
Updated May 30, 5:54 PM to clarify that some Amazon contractors have forced arbitration clauses in their contracts.