“Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice” was a headline on a groundbreaking New York Times report (10/31/15) from 2015. Reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Robert Gebeloff looked into the fine-print “agreements” that people sign, usually without reading them, as a requirement for obtaining credit card memberships or cellphone contracts or internet service—contracts that tell you that if there is any problem with your account, the company “may elect to resolve any claim by individual arbitration.”
The Times reporters rightfully described those nine words as “the center of a far-reaching power play orchestrated by American corporations.” Because, as they explained and illustrated at length, “inserting individual-arbitration clauses into a soaring number of consumer and employment contracts” is
a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits, realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.
That was vital, critical reporting. Fast forward to today, and another company silently snuck a forced arbitration clause into its terms of service—and that company is the New York Times.
Public Citizen was among those unable to ignore the hypocrisy of a company that had called out a practice signing up to employ that same practice itself. In its letter to the Times‘ chief executive officer, Public Citizen noted the “ironic twist” of a paper that has told its readers that forced arbitration venues “bear little resemblance to court,” and are instead used “to create an alternate system of justice” by virtually privatizing the justice system, now characterizing those same arbitrators, in its updated terms of service, as “neutral.”
We have long noted that media corporations that are themselves anti-union can hardly be trusted to report fairly on unions and organizing. This is just another reminder that while we pick up the paper looking for reporting that simply offers a clear-eyed view on important events, what we are in fact getting is the product of a profit-driven organization, beholden to advertisers and shareholders, that may not set out to harm its readers, but that simply does not have their interest as its first priority.
It doesn’t mean don’t read the paper. It does mean read it carefully. And don’t believe everything you read.