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Franken amendment sparks debate about government's role in employee relations

In a special guest blog post, Washington Technology Editor-in-chief Nick Wakeman invites you to join a discussion about the effect the Franken amendment will have on government contractors.

Should the government withhold payment from companies that make employees sign arbitration clauses?

There were no shortages of opinions about Matthew Weigelt’s story about the Franken amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act. Sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the amendment denies funds to companies that require employees to sign arbitration clauses.

Readers were alternately supportive and outraged.

“Where does this stop? With this nifty piece of legislation, the government stands in the middle of the contractual relationships entered into by two consenting parties. It is overreaching, inappropriate, and, at the end of the day, will be ineffective,” said a reader identified as Voice in the Wilderness.

Another detractor went after the sponsor: “Franken is like a child ranting against the bigger world of which he has never been a part.”

But the former "Saturday Night Live" star had his supporters: “Good for Franken, and good for the United States legal system.”

Other commenters dove into the legal nuances of the debate:

“If you have an arbitration clause in your contract you will not get paid. OK. Understood. Dump the arbitration clause and your only legal recourse is hiring a lawyer to compete against your company’s legal machine. This is a good thing... Right?”

Several go back to the discrimination case that triggered Franken to take action:

“The legal facts were that by accepting employment with [contractor] KBR [Inc.], employees were effectively signing the KBR ‘mandatory arbitration’ clause which established that the employee waived their rights to a jury trial or to bring suit against the employer. In the specific case of KBR, the ‘mandatory arbitrator’ was Halliburton, KBR's holding company, which effectively negated any positive outcome for the paintiff,” wrote Morals4Moulah.

Another commenter recommended that readers click on the link to the Defense Department memo, which is included in the story.

“You can not arbitrate Title VII issues (discrimination cases). You must take sexual harassment, … discrimination cases, and such to court,” wrote Don.

But Don isn’t a fan of the amendment: “Will this encourage more grievances being filed in court or less? With less being filed, can employers get away with more? The best solution would have been to allow the 'victim' an appeal process (or choice) in cases like this instead of a mandatory court case.”

Like any new rule or guidance, a lot is unknown about how this rule will be enforced, but one thing is certain: Contractors need to pay attention.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Feb 24, 2010 at 12:18 PM


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