Earlier this month, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) proposed an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill to withhold defense contracts from companies which “restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.” The amendment stemmed from a incident where Halliburton/KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers, then detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration. (Jones was not an isolated case.)
Although Franken’s amendment passed, it was opposed by 30 Republican Senators and by lobbyists of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Blogger-activist Mike Stark interviewed several of the GOP Senators who voted against the amendment, including Sen. John Thune (R-SD). Thune explained his vote by arguing that he was simply defending the sanctity of using binding arbitration to settle disputes between labor and management:
STARK: What it would have prevented, was the government from contracting with anyone who forces women who have been raped into arbitration instead of giving them their day in court. … It sounds to a lot of us that you sided with corporations over rape victims.
THUNE: It was clearly politically inspired amendment to make it appear that way. The issue has to do with whether or not arbitration is going to be something that continues to be a part of labor agreements.
STARK: Well this was narrowly defined to prevent arbitration in cases of rape.
THUNE: No, no it wasn’t. … It has to do with the broader issue about whether or not arbitration is going to be a tool available for labor and management to use when it comes to labor agreements.
While Thune is committed to the principle that corporations have the right to use binding arbitration to muzzle victims of rape, he has long argued against the use of arbitrators in regards to reforming how unions sign labor contracts. In fact, Thune has fashioned himself a chief opponent of the Employee Free Choice Act simply because of arbitration. Arbitration is a part of EFCA because, all too often, when employees vote to form a union, they still can’t get a first contract due to their employer’s delay tactics. However, Thune has argued that the most “egregious” provision of EFCA is arbitration. Arbitration to help unions form contracts with their employers, Thune argues, would “kill jobs” and hurt “every American business, both large and small.”
Thune’s only consistency here appears to be that he believes both union workers and rape victims don’t deserve justice.