By Kevin Diaz
Forget about the service dogs bill. To Al Franken's progressive base, the signature victory of his first 100 days in the U.S. Senate was an amendment barring federal dollars to defense contractors who require pre-dispute arbitration agreements as a condition of employment.
What this means, as Halliburton worker Jamie Leigh Jones found out in 2005, is that if you’re raped by co-workers on the assignment in Iraq, you may have a hard time getting your day in court.
The Senate passed Franken’s amendment 68-30, suggesting that it wasn’t a particularly hard sell. The amendment isn’t in the House version of the bill. But with Democrats firmly in control of the House, one wonders what could impede Franken’s amendment from becoming the law of the land.
Still, trial lawyers, victim advocates, and progressives who rallied around Jones’ cause are raising the alarm. According to reports in the Huffington Post, Daily Kos and elsewhere, there are elements in the Pentagon – and perhaps the White House – who have raised questions about the enforceability of the Franken provisions.
According to some of these reports, the defense lobby’s bidding is being done by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. But Inouye spokeswoman Lori Hamamoto told Hot Dish Politics on Friday that he not only voted for the Franken amendment, he supports keeping it in the bill.
Still, the fear is that Franken’s amendment could be weakened or altogether dropped in the upcoming conference negotiations with the House, in which Franken, a freshman Democrat, gets to play no part.
According to legal experts, Franken’s amendment could be be the first time Congress has significantly restricted binding arbitration in employment.
Asked about the so-called Franken amendment earlier this week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs referred reporters back to the Pentagon. This has not gone over well with Franken partisans, who worry that any weakening of the discrimination provisions in the bill would make it harder for sex assault victims like Jones to hold their employers accountable in court.
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