Here's a 12/13/09 Press Release from Rep. Dennis Kucinich's office that is encouraging and educational. (I know it's a bit old, but it is important enough to mention even now.)
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) released the following statement:
“This holiday shopping season, consumers have the choice of using credit cards that don’t take away their legal rights. Until now, all major banks have required their customers – through provisions hidden in the fine print of credit card agreements -- to give up their constitutional right to their day in court. Those agreements have required customers to settle their disputes through a process called arbitration. In July, the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee, of which I am the Chairman, held a hearing in which we showed that mandatory arbitration is arbitrary, and that results depend more on the arbitrator to whom the case is assigned than on the facts or the law that applies.
“Since that hearing, my staff has been communicating with all the major banks, and today I can announce that six of those banks will not have arbitration clauses in their new credit card agreements. Those banks are JPMorganChase, CapitalOne, PNC Bank, TD Bank, Bank of America and Regions Bank. I want to congratulate those banks for their decisions.
“I particularly want to congratulate JPMorganChase and CapitalOne. Those two banks will be issuing new credit card agreements that also allow their customers the right to a jury trial and the right to participate in a class action. I strongly encourage the other banks to follow their lead.
“For the first time in years, you can choose what credit card to use by considering all its terms—interest rate, minimum payment, fees, rewards, and whether it requires you to give up your right to use the courts that our state and federal Constitutions have created for you.”
WTF Are Arbitration Clauses and Why Should I Care?
Arbitration clauses, which are part of most credit card agreements, force you to go to arbitration instead of going to court if you have a dispute with the bank that has your credit card. Arbitration is different than mediation. In mediation, someone without enforcement powers tries to come up with an agreement that both sides can live with. If it doesn't work, the dispute can be settled in court.
Arbitrators, in the kind of binding arbitration in the credit card clauses, can try to mediate at first. However, if the parties don't reach an agreement, arbitrators also have the power and responsibility to enforce a resolution that cannot be appealed in court except under extraordinary circumstances. Binding arbitration is weighted heavily in favor of the credit card holders for a couple of reasons.
1) The banks deal with arbitration and arbitrators all the time. The individual consumer doesn't. That means they can use their knowledge and experience to select arbitrators who are more favorable to them.
2) Arbitrators know about item 1. So, if they want much business, they have to be favorable to the corporations.
These kinds of binding arbitration clauses are not limited to credit card agreements. HMOs and health insurers often use them to their advantage too.
Arbitration clauses sound boring and harmless, but their impacts can be anything but.