Council’s Finance Committee meets at 10:00 a.m. today to consider two items introduced by Ald. Ed Burke (14) months ago. The first, originally introduced in November, says no company can do business with the city if that business or its affiliates enters into any pre-dispute arbitration agreement with anyone after the effective date of the ordinance, 60 days after passage. Those agreements are common practice at a number of banks, retailers, and telecom companies, included in applications for things like credit cards, as well as cell phone, cable, internet and online shopping agreements. A lengthy New York Times investigation found the agreements “essentially disabled consumer challenges to practices like predatory lending, wage theft and discrimination.”
These mandatory arbitration clauses “[destroy] a core American principle,” Burke’s ordinance says, by requiring a consumer or employee give up the ability to join a class action lawsuit or sue a business as a condition of keeping their job or using a good or service.
But no vote is expected on the sweeping changes.
The ordinance is based on a proposal in the National Consumer Law Center’s (NCLC) Model State Consumer and Employee Justice Enforcement Act. A representative from NCLC, David Seligman, is expected to testify in favor of the ordinance tomorrow (full testimony text).
“Forced arbitration harms consumers and employees, but it harms cities and states too,” Seligman said in a statement. “Companies that use forced arbitration clauses can prevent consumer and employment disputes from becoming public, making it much more difficult for the government to learn if it is paying for bad goods or services or paying more than it should. Forced arbitration isn’t only unfair; it’s also bad business.”
According to Ald. Burke’s measure, thousands of companies are choosing to insert mandatory arbitration clauses into contracts, in an attempt to “shield themselves from court action by consumers over alleged discrimination, elder abuse, fraud, hate crimes, medical malpractice and wrongful death.” The rule would be a continuing requirement for doing business with the city.
The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce is also expected to be on hand to testify against the ordinance, along with David Ritter, the Chamber’s Employment Law Chairman and a partner at Barnes & Thornburg. The Chamber argues agreements are oftentimes faster and cheaper than going to court, and that class action wage and hour cases benefit plaintiff’s attorneys more than individual workers or consumers.
The Chamber is only expecting a subject matter hearing to discuss the pros and cons of the ordinance, and not anticipating a vote today, the Chamber’s Mike Reever told Aldertrack.
The second item, a resolution from Ald. Marge Laurino (39) and Ald. Burke calls for hearings on the student loan debt crisis. It was first introduced in March. The city’s Chief Financial Officer, Carole Brown, and officials from the private sector, City Colleges, CPS, and other local colleges will be called to testify. Illinois ranks 16th in the country for highest debt burden at about $29,000, and debt has doubled for students at Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois at Carbondale and Western Illinois Universities, the preamble states