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Poll: Americans Oppose Forced Arbitration, Demand Corporations Be Held Accountable

Wide support exists across party lines for Arbitration Fairness Act; consumers, employees from around U.S. lobby lawmakers today

WASHINGTON - Americans widely oppose corporations using mandatory binding arbitration clauses in the fine print of consumer and employment contracts, according to national polling of likely voters conducted by Lake Research Partners.

Forced arbitration clauses are hidden in the fine print of everything from cell phone, home, credit card and retirement account terms of agreement to employment and nursing home contracts. Just by taking a job or buying a product or service, consumers and employees are forced to give up their right to take their case to court if they are harmed by a corporation.

The poll results bolster already heightened scrutiny by lawmakers of credit cards, mortgages, and other common consumer and employee contracts. The bipartisan Arbitration Fairness Act (H.R. 1020) was introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) in the House of Representatives and will be introduced in the Senate by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) today. The measure will ensure that the decision to arbitrate is made voluntarily and after a dispute has arisen, so corporations cannot manipulate the arbitration system in their favor at the expense of consumers. The Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act (S. 512 / H.R. 1237), introduced by Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts.

"The findings show clearly that Americans strongly oppose forced arbitration, and they see the Arbitration Fairness Act as a remedy. Not only is there real intensity to this view, but it traverses traditional partisan divides," said Lake Research Partners President Celinda Lake. "Forced arbitration clauses - which are buried in the fine print of employment and consumer contracts - are another example of corporations taking advantage of ordinary Americans. The public supports the Arbitration Fairness Act because equal justice under the law is a core American value."

The poll shows that:

* Six in 10 likely voters support the Arbitration Fairness Act - including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents;
* 59 percent of likely voters oppose the use of mandatory binding arbitration clauses in employment and consumer contracts;
* Two-thirds of respondents cannot remember ever reading about a forced arbitration provision buried in the fine print of employment terms or agreement for goods and services; and,
* More than 70 percent of respondents believe they could take their employer or a corporation to court in the event of a dispute, unaware they could be subjected to mandatory binding arbitration.

The results were unveiled today at a press conference in Washington, D.C., organized by the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition, which represents consumers, employees, homeowners and franchise holders. The groups range from Public Citizen, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Association for Justice to the National Consumer Voice for Long-Term Care, Home Owners for Better Building and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

"The Arbitration Fairness Act does not seek to eliminate arbitration and other forms of alternative dispute resolution agreed to voluntarily after a dispute arises," the groups wrote last month in a letter to lawmakers. "Its sole aim is to end the unscrupulous business practice of forcing consumers and employees into biased arbitrations by binding them long before any disputes arise."

More than 50 consumers, employees and advocates lobbied lawmakers today to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act. They came from Alabama, California, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia to speak about how forced arbitration makes it nearly impossible to hold companies accountable for wrongdoing.

"One of our indelible rights is the right of a jury trial," Johnson said. "Guaranteed by the Constitution, this right has been gradually ceded by citizens every day as they purchase a new cell phone, buy a home, place a loved one in a nursing home, or accept a new job. Once used as a tool for businesses to solve their disputes, arbitration agreements have found their way into employment, consumer, franchise and medical contracts."

Added Feingold, "Americans are sick and tired of a system that so strongly favors big corporations over consumers and in this case robs them of their constitutional right to their day in court," Feingold said. "Americans are often given no choice but to give up their rights if they want to sign credit card agreements, cell phone contracts, job applications or other basic contracts. It's time for Congress to side with consumers and employees and end this practice of forced arbitration, which stacks the deck against the people Congress is supposed to represent."

Members of Congress will hear from people like David Kurth, of Burlington, Wis., whose father William died in 2005 due to severe neglect of care while in a nursing home facility. When the Kurth family tried to hold the nursing home corporation accountable in court, they were told that another family member had signed a forced arbitration clause. A judge agreed and said the case could not be heard in court.

"Nursing home corporations are using arbitration clauses as liability shields to insulate them from their own wrongful conduct," said Kurth at today's press conference.

The survey reached 800 adults nationwide, 18 years or older, who are likely to vote in the 2010 elections. The overall margin of error is +/-3.5%. The poll was commissioned by The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute For Law & Policy and Public Citizen, and funded by The Public Welfare Foundation. Pollsters Celinda Lake and Daniel Gotoff of Lake Research Partners are also available to discuss the poll results. Please see media contacts above to arrange any interviews.

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