090417-SALUTE-TO-LABOR-025

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. speaks to the crowd at the Salute to Labor picnic at Illiniwek Forest Preserve in Hampton on Monday, September 4, 2017. Rock Island County Democrats held the 50th annual Salute to Labor picnic featuring a line up of candidates running for the Democratic nomination for governor, as well as federal, state and local political figures from both Illinois and Iowa.

Andy Abeyta, QUAD-CITY TIMES

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, have joined forces on a proposal that would ban mandatory arbitration agreements in sexual harassment disputes.

The two lawmakers, and former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, appeared at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to announce the legislation. Carlson sued Fox last year, alleging sexual harassment by Roger Ailes, who was then the head of the network. Ailes died in May.

“If we truly want to end sexual harassment in the workplace, we need to eliminate the institutionalized protections that have allowed this unacceptable behavior to continue for too long," Bustos said.

Arbitration clauses are often a condition of employment and cover about 60 million Americans, the bill's proponents said. They say that such agreements limit an employee's access to a jury trial, where they are more likely to prevail.

The bill comes as women and men across the country have accused men in positions of power in politics, business and the media of improper sexual conduct, including harassment and assault.

The legislation has some bi-partisan support.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, is a co-sponsor, as is Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican of New York.

The Economic Policy Institute said this year a survey of non-union private sector employers show that mandatory arbitration clauses have doubled since 2000.

The institute said that 56 percent of non-union workers in the private sector, or 60 million people, are covered by such agreements.

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