Let’s Talk About Money

             I have seen a number of studies recently that emphasize the old bromide that money doesn’t bring happiness. I don’t buy it. I never have. I think the idea was created by folks with money who think that wealth attainment is a zero-sum game.

            While money may not be the most important component to happiness, the freedom that comes from having money necessarily helps folks live happier and less burdensome lives.

            I negotiate union contracts for a living. And whenever I present a new agreement to a union body, the first thing anybody does is turn to the back page to see how much they are getting in raises. It happens every time. Nobody looks for how many sick days they get or how assignments will be made.

            I take it as my primary responsibility to get my union members more money. Everything else is secondary.

            And while inflation has been flying high for almost two years and the labor market has been long on jobs and short on workers, wage increases have been rather pedestrian for both union and non-union employees.

            I think that a few changes can help improve wage outlooks for most workers.

            First, I think there needs to be legislation passed that prohibits almost all non-compete agreements. Non-compete agreements serve to artificially lower wages by preventing employees from moving to higher-paying jobs in the same industry. And because employees are restricted in their movement, they lose any leverage in trying to negotiate a higher wage with their current employer. It is a lose-lose for employees.

            Unfortunately, most employees are given a non-compete agreement to sign on their first day of work with a new employer. At that point everything is peaches and cream, and nobody is thinking about the end of the employment relationship.

            Earlier this month, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy and Indiana Senator Todd Young proposed bipartisan legislation at the federal level that would place limits on non-competes with a few exceptions.

            The Federal Trade Commission has also proposed legislation to limit most non-competes and would apply the legislation retroactively to current non-competes.

            Meanwhile, Connecticut’s General Assembly has also considered legislation over the years to ban the practice. Most Americans agree that the practice should be banned – according to polls – as the agreements impact as many as 60 million American workers.

            Another factor that can help raise wage rates is wage transparency. Folks have been taught that it is impolite to talk about income. But when folks don’t discuss their wages, then nobody can really understand what their value is in the marketplace.

            Throughout my career I have shared my hourly rates and my annual income with other lawyers who asked because I thought it was important for us to understand the market and make sure we were earning what we were worth. Without sharing the knowledge, we would never know where we stood.

            In 2021, Connecticut passed legislation requiring covered employers to disclose wage ranges to applicants for employment. It also allows employees to discuss their wage rates among themselves without retaliation or discipline from the employer.

            As with most things, the more transparency there is, the better for everyone.

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