Opinion | The Great American Labor Trap


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Video by Adam Westbrook and Emily Holzknecht

Mr. Westbrook is a producer with Opinion Video. Ms. Holzknecht is an associate producer with Opinion Video.

If you have a steady job in the United States, there’s a good chance you are bound by an employment contract that sets the terms of your work, including hours, salary and benefits. But the contract’s reach may not be limited to that job. It may also contain language that puts restrictions on your life even after you leave that job.

These are noncompete clauses, the focus of the Opinion video above. They typically prevent an employee from working for a competitor for a certain period after leaving the company.

Once the domain of high-flying executives privy to trade secrets or other highly sensitive information, noncompete clauses have become the scourge of employees of all kinds. Many low-wage workers — including hairstylists, fast-food line cooks and security guards — are now burdened by them. And the limits they impose on labor mobility have become a drag on the American economy.

In a hopeful development, the Federal Trade Commission proposed a rule this year that would ban the use of noncompete clauses in future employment contracts and void such clauses in existing contracts. The commission’s three members are soliciting public feedback on the proposal.

But the commission is under tremendous pressure from the business community not to ban noncompete clauses. The video above argues that the F.T.C. should listen to workers rather than bend to the will of corporations that are abusing them.

Emily Holzknecht (@eholzknecht) is an associate producer in Opinion. Adam Westbrook is a producer and editor with Opinion Video.

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