A controversial proposal that could affect millions of American workers is splitting a group of swing voters we focus grouped on January 10.
The Federal Trade Commission, under the Biden Administration, proposed earlier this month that employers be prevented from entering into non-compete clauses with workers, and also proposed requiring employers to void existing non-compete clauses. The Biden Administration believes these proposals, if enacted, will promote competition in the economy.
According to the FTC, non-competes are “a widespread and often exploitative practice that suppresses wages, hampers innovation, and blocks entrepreneurs from starting new businesses. By stopping this practice, the agency estimates that the new proposed rule could increase wages by nearly $300 billion per year and expand career opportunities for about 30 million Americans.”
In response, Sean Heather, U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president for International Regulatory Affairs and Antitrust, wrote, “Attempting to ban noncompete clauses in all employment circumstances overturns well-established state laws which have long governed their use and ignores the fact that, when appropriately used, noncompete agreements are an important tool in fostering innovation and preserving competition.”
In our latest Swing Voter Project focus groups, conducted January 10th with 13 “Trump-to-Biden” voters across Florida, we learned that the Biden Administration is on the right track with about half of our swing voters. Six support the Federal Trade Commission’s proposals, with the rest opposed or undecided.
Those who support the FTC explained:
“[A non-compete clause] is anti-capitalistic,” said Jason, 51, from Delray. “It stifles competition. It’s an overreach of private companies on people’s personal choices. If I want to go work for a competitor, who the hell is a company to tell me I’m not allowed? Or even if I want to start a company based on a technology that I did not steal, but I can do it better, a non-compete is going to stifle that. You’re stifling entrepreneurship, and that’s anti-American.”
“Sometimes there’s a really good reason somebody should leave a company,” remarked Katie, 42, from Bradenton. “I think that if someone wants to leave somewhere with that knowledge and they can maybe do it safer or better or whatever their reason might be, there might be some pretty good reasoning why they were going to leave…I’ve heard of people that have 10-year [non-compete clauses]. If they work in the northeast, it’s literally half the country, Mississippi [River] over, and it’s a 10-year no-compete [clause]. Well, that’s their livelihood.”
Rosario, 37, from St. Cloud, shared a similar viewpoint, commenting, “[A non-compete clause] doesn’t let you seek something else besides the work that you already have. If you’re working for one company and you want to go and try another company that has a different perspective or goals, why can you not go with them? It’s like they’re tying you, like, ‘OK, you’re not working with us anymore. You cannot be working in that field anymore.’ They’re closing you out.”
“I just think that [a non-compete clause] is old school. It came about because there used to be a more practical reason, but with today’s economy, especially being so global, there’s no reason at all to even have it,” remarked Shari, 58, from Crawfordville.
Specifically regarding the FTC proposal, Todd, 42, from Longwood, added, “I don’t see it as anti-business at all because to get rid of a non-compete allows for the creation of business or healthy competition, which can help lower the costs of things.”
Others oppose what the Federal Trade Commission is trying to do.
Steven, 59, from Orlando, explained, “The purpose of [the non-compete clause] is a lot of people were taking information from one company into another. For example, client lists, procedures, and they were utilizing the procedures and client lists from one company into another. That created an unfair advantage for that new company. That’s pretty much where the non-compete clause came into effect.”
“I especially oppose voiding the ones that are already in existence because those were signed contracts and agreements that were made. It just seems crazy to go back and be able to void and change those,” remarked Chris, 47, from Winter Garden.
Judging from these swing voters, the FTC proposal is not a slam-dunk political winner for the Biden Administration.
Rich Thau (pictured) is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Schlesinger Group. Matt Steffee is vice president of research services at Engagious.