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Supporters of NY bill to ban noncompete agreements say Hochul's staff is avoiding a meeting

State Sen. Sean Ryan, a Buffalo-area Democrat, joins with supporters of a bill to ban noncompete clauses in New York, on Nov. 28, 2023, and asks Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign it.
Karen DeWitt
/
New York State Public Radio
State Sen. Sean Ryan, a Buffalo-area Democrat, joins with supporters of a bill to ban noncompete clauses in New York, on Nov. 28, 2023, and asks Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign it.

Supporters of a bill that would outlaw noncompete contracts said Tuesday that they are concerned about a big-business lobbying effort to stop the measure from becoming law.

They’re urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign it, and they say the governor’s staff has avoided meeting with them, something a spokesman for the governor denies.

Noncompete agreements prohibit an employee of a company from working for a competitor or opening their own competing business for a certain length of time after the worker leaves.

State Sen. Sean Ryan, the sponsor of a bill that would end noncompete clauses, said the agreements used to be limited to highly paid upper-echelon executives at large organizations. But he said now, many people — from car rental shop workers to doctors — are required to sign them as terms of employment.

“The truth is that one in five Americans are subjected to noncompete agreements,” Ryan said. “Here in New York state, over 40% of the employers use noncompete agreements.” 

Ryan was joined by supporters — including members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA, which recently successfully ended a 118-day strike against the film and television industry — the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, and members of the state’s AFL-CIO.

Rebecca Daman with SAG-AFTRA said the noncompete agreements harm the overall economy and artificially suppress wages.

“A noncompete clause allows (a) worker’s employer to force the employee to choose between better work opportunities or stability or consistency in their home life,” Daman said. “Which makes it unnecessary for the employer to make a fair market-based offer.”

They said they face fierce opposition, though, from some of the state’s largest employers, represented by the New York State Business Council. The group’s Public Policy Institute is sponsoring ads on YouTube, warning bluntly of what they see as the measure’s dangers.

“Albany's vote to ban anti-competition agreements would shatter our economy, crippling businesses’ ability to fuel innovation and retain talent,” the narrator says in the ad. “And risk seeing our jobs flee to other states.”

They’ve created a website: jobkillerbillny.com.

Some of the supporters of the measure say they are also concerned over the Hochul administration’s denial of their request to hold a meeting before the governor considers the bill.

Paul Sonn with the National Employment Law Project said he’s worked for decades on issues at the state Capitol and can’t recall ever being denied a meeting about an important policy bill before.

“I can't think of ... another piece of labor legislation in Albany we've worked on where we have not been able to get a meeting with the governor's team,” Sonn said. 

In a statement, Hochul spokesman Avi Small disputed the account of the advocacy groups. He said the governor and her administration " have discussed this legislation repeatedly with advocates, including many of the groups represented at this event." He said the governor and her staff "regularly meet with stakeholders who support or oppose pending legislation".

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.