Sandwich Company Jimmy Johns Gets Its Comeuppance for Outrageous Selfishness Toward Workers

In June of this year, the Illinois-based sandwich chain Jimmy John's vowed to end a controversial employment practice that the New York attorney general's office had described as "unlawful." Jimmy John's had prohibited former employees from obtaining work at establishments that competed with them for two years after leaving the company. It also restricted departing employees from working within two miles of a Jimmy John's location that generated 10% of its revenue from sandwiches.

Non-compete agreements are commonly associated with research and tech jobs, occupations where employers are often looking to protect trade secrets. However, many are unaware of the fact they are regularly extended to low-wage jobs. Writing about her own experience with a non-compete, Stephanie Russell-Kraft pointed out on AlterNet that:

"Unlike traditional non-compete agreements, the new brand of mass-market non-compete contract is unnecessarily broad, overly harsh and targeted at those employees who are least likely to be able to fight back, whether in negotiations or in court.

"Over the last few years, examples of outrageous non-compete agreements for low-income employees have trickled in at a slow but steady pace."

New York began investigating Jimmy John's use of non-competes at the end of 2014, and shortly before it changed its policy, the Illinois attorney general's office filed a lawsuit against the company for its "highly restrictive" agreements. In a statement released after the company dropped the non-compete clause, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said that:

“Non-compete agreements for low-wage workers are unconscionable.They limit mobility and opportunity for vulnerable workers and bully them into staying with the threat of being sued. Companies should stop using these agreements for minimum wage employees.”

Only a few states prohibit non-compete agreements, but many are now working to maintain a balance between acknowledging legitimate concerns about trade secrets and stopping practices like those of Jimmy John's. These fights aren't expected to be easy. A bill restricting non-compete agreements in Massachusetts just failed over "very small, but fundamental differences." Massachusetts State Senator Dan Wolf, one of the negotiators, told WBUR:

"I think they're immoral. First of all, I think employees or workers should be able to sell their labor on the open market, and there shouldn't be restrictions on what they get for it."

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