I have some information that came to me in the March issue of "Lowdown." I want you to think very carefully about what I'm going to share with you, and then let conscience be your guide.
The headline reads, "Corporate Kangaroo Courts Have Quietly Usurped Our Constitutional Right to Trial by Judge and Jury."
It seems that there are so many cases involving corporations that it's hard to get the cases before judges. It's bad enough that you have to go up against powerful corporations with expensive lawyers, but the judicial system itself is cumbersome, slow and costly.
Many people find judges intimidating, with their black robes and gavels in their hands, plus all their rules and regulations and knowledge. Therefore, people look to an alternative system that is available to render justice in disputes between corporations and aggrieved citizens. In this system, the two parties choose a neutral third party to review the facts from both sides. That neutral person makes a ruling to resolve the conflict. This system has been "sold" to the negotiating parties by saying that it's cheaper, faster and more efficient. It sounds great, doesn't it? But let Paul Harvey step up and tell the rest of the story.
It seems that for years, Congress, the corporate lobbyists, the Supreme Court and hired gun arbitration firms have milked the system for steady profits. Where is the justice in this system, then? Let's take a look: 1. Arbitration is not a public system subject to the same measures regarding conflict of interest laws, but a private business. 2. Instead of arbitrators being neutral, they are usually chosen by the corporation involved in the case! 3. Major corporations go up against consumers and laborers after they have handpicked arbitrators who have proven records of favoring corporations. 4. The corporation also is allowed to hear where the case is heard. This gives them the advantage of choosing a place that is inconvenient and unfair to the complaining party. 5. Arbitrators are not required to know the law relevant to the cases they judge, follow legal procedures or even be lawyers. Along with that, normal procedural rules for gathering and sharing evidence and safeguarding fairness for all do not apply in arbitration cases! And this is America? This is justice? How can it be? But we're not through with the bad news yet.
The media and the public are not allowed in the courtroom for these cases. On top of that, arbitrators need not reveal the reasons behind their decisions. These decisions are not legally accountable for errors and these decisions set no legal precedents for future similar cases.
There's more. Even if the arbitrator's decision is legally incorrect, it is still enforceable and there is virtually no right to appeal an arbitrator's ruling.
On top of all of this, if you do business with a corporation, they make you sign away your right to go to the court over any mistreatment from the corporation later on.
This is an eye-opener if you are seeking justice over being gouged by your bank, discriminated against or sexually harassed while working for a corporation, unfairly fired by one, cheated on wages, denied health coverage or harmed in any way by a corporation. You'll probably be barred from the courthouse door.
Let's look at the record. In a 2000 "Washington Post" survey of cases involving First USA Bank (at that time, the second largest credit card company), arbitrators ruled for the bank 99.6 percent of the time! In 2007, a public citizen report revealed that the National Arbitration Forum hired its adjuticator to hear 34,000 consumer vs. bank cases in California during the past four years, and 95 percent of the time, they ruled in favor of the banks! But this one takes the cake: In 2008, in the city of San Francisco, 18,045 cases were tried against big corporations, and 100 percent of the rulings were in favor of the corporations! Come on now! Where is the justice?
Years ago, when I had my beauty shop in my basement, one of my customers asked me, "Margaret, don't you ever get mad?"
I was shocked, because yes, I get mad. Injustice makes me furious! I can't stand anything that is unfair, cruel or mean. We have to do something about this. What can we do to help these situations? Communication with your representatives is a good place to start. Answer all the questionnaires you get in the mail and let organizations know how you feel. Take surveys. Speak up. No, you don't have to send them money! But if we stay quiet and do nothing, then nothing is what we deserve! If you can't do everything you'd like to do, do what you can! Don't concentrate on your disabilities. If you can talk, if you can write, then you can influence! You can cut out this column and send it to Senator Schumer. He's a doer. I think Rep. Reed is trying, and Rep. Young is a doer. Think about what message you want them to hear, then focus on getting it to them.
Make no mistake - I love this country. We have been the hope of the world for decades upon decades! Let's not lose our identity of strength and fairness and replace it with a new, flimsy identity that isn't respected! Greed and pride can and will control us if we let it. Wake up and act on what you believe in! Then call me and tell me about it. If we all do nothing, I may as well stop writing this column.
Margaret Valone is a Fredonia resident. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org