Employees seek Massachusetts ban on non-compete agreements

Colette Buser speaks at a State House hearing in favor of banning non-compete agreements. She signed one at 16 while working at a summer camp and couldn't find work at another one years later because of the agreement. Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro
Colette Buser speaks at a State House hearing in favor of banning non-compete agreements. She signed one at 16 while working at a summer camp and couldn’t find work at another one years later because of the agreement.
Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

Comparing non-compete agreements to serfdom, employees who were once subject to the provisions spoke out against them and urged state lawmakers to pass a bill banning them in Massachusetts.

“They amount to a form of high-tech serfdom where an employee is stuck with his company,” said Paul Burnstein, a physicist who was terminated from his job but still bound to his employer for a year, he said, because of a non-compete agreement.

Burnstein is one of scores of people who packed a standing-room-only State House hearing room on Tuesday to speak out in favor of a bill to ban non-compete agreements before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. Gov. Deval Patrick earlier this year proposed banning them, saying in part that they drive talented employees out of the state.

“If I had to do it over again, I would have gone to Palo Alto rather than put up with this garbage in Cambridge,” said Burnstein.

State Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory Bialecki spoke in favor of the ban and said it applies not just to those in the tech industry.

“Both the venture capital community and tech entrepreneurs have been the most vocal proponents of eliminating non-competes … this is an issue that affects Massachusetts residents of all kinds,” Bialecki said. “Car salesmen, pet groomers, hair stylists, medical translators, teenage camp counselors, many of whom who are in this room have been denied jobs or locked out of the workforce entirely because of non-compete agreements.”

Among the first to share her story during Tuesday’s hearing was Colette Buser. The 19-year-old had worked three summers as a camp counselor for a Linx camp in Wellesley. She eventually decided to move on and was nearly hired by another camp until they found out she had signed a non-compete her previous camp, she said. The agreement forbid her from working at a competing camp within 10 miles for one year.

In an interview with the New York Times, the founder of Linx camp said the non-compete protects the camp’s intellectual property which is the training and fostering of its counselors.

“Though Linx training was useful in some ways … in other ways it was not training at all,” Buser contended. “For example, I spent a full training day assembling canoes and putting sticky letters on the sides of them of them then moving 20 wagons up a hill.”

Those who support non-compete agreements argue that they protect trade secrets and attract companies to Massachusetts.

“Our trade secret laws provide Massachusetts a competitive advantage over other states. It serves as an encouragement for companies to locate in Massachusetts,” said Richard Baker, president of New England Intellectual Property. The bill “will support the dishonest and wealthy competitors at the expense of smaller Massachusetts companies.”

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.



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