Friday, September 7, 2012

Author Interview with Ron Hummer

Ron Hummer is a professional who is bound by a non-compete agreement. Non-compete agreements prevent a person from working in their profession within a certain area for a specified amount of time. These agreements can hinder a job search and economically depress families.

Ron has taken his own experiences with non-compete agreements and turned them into  murder mysteries:

In "A Hell of A Woman," Donn Gunn has lost his wife and is now on the verge of losing everything else. He meets a woman who may or may not be a serial killer. Will Don's non-compete agreement keep him from finding a new job before he's the killer's next victim?

"96 Rocks" is about a corporate powerhouse of a radio station. By using non-compete agreements, the radio station plays puppet master with it's employees. When the general manager is found murdered, will detective Ozzie Rivera find answers in the form of the victims of corporate greed?

Now, for the Q&A with Ron Hummer:

Your books deal with your disdain for non-compete agreements. Could you tell those of us not familiar with the term what that means and why this is an important issue for you?

Sure.  A typical non-compete agreement is one that an employee signs and is told that he or she cannot work for a company that has a competing product.  So even if a company has 10 products and another company has one of those products, the employee cannot work there.  It’s not Coke or Pepsi.  It’s Coke and Bottled water.
Since the employee is considered at will, the non-compete further states that he or she can be fired at any time for any reason and would not be able to work for a company with a competing product for 2 years, thus limiting their job search to the point where they can’t work in the industry.
In my case, I was given a memo stating that I had two weeks to sign this agreement or I would be terminated from my company.  I knew that other companies in my industry had a similar contract so I decided to sign it.  I didn’t think there was a choice.
Other people hesitated to sign this agreement and I know that certain people were pressured to the point where they were told that if they didn’t sign the agreement, then they would be terminated.  Others were given a pass due to favoritism and did not sign the agreement.  This is nothing more than discrimination.
I have met with 3 employment lawyers in the past 12 years.  All of them have said the same thing.  These contract are like a form letter that lawyers fill out.  They’re always the same and that’s why they are air-tight.  Companies like mine have an attitude that they’re doing you a favor because your job is your reward, since they don’t even have to give you a severance package if they fire you.  The reason for having the two years after being terminated from your job: it’s an attempt to keep you out of the industry so you can’t get back into the industry, thus destroying your career.
I think non-compete agreements have a place in the business world for people who are CEO’s for example and others who do have trade secrets.  These people either make a tremendous amount of money or are given payoffs that are as much as 2 years of their salary even if they are terminated.
Where I draw the line is when companies feel that all the employees who work for a company have trade secrets.   People who make less than $70,000 a year and don’t attend board meetings are put on these non-compete agreements and cannot afford the litigation cost of $10,000 to go to court to get relief from their non-compete agreement.  That is the most important reason that this should be regulated since it was tried in Massachusetts.

Authors can be notorious procrastinators. What's your favorite way to waste time when you're avoiding writing?

It could be a lot of things.  I could be watching a San Francisco Giants game.  Reading a book.  Going on twitter.

Do you have a new project that you'd like to tell us about?  

I have worked on something but I’m not sure if I want to go forward with it yet.

Who's your literary inspiration? 

For these two books, I would say Bruno Fischer.  I follow a lot of pulp fiction writers from the 1940’s - 1960’s.  When i wrote 96 Rocks for example, it was based on different point of views from characters like Bruno Fischer did in the Ben Helm mysteries.

Who are you reading right now?  

I’m reading the Tourist by Olen Steinhauer.  I’m planning to read The Neighbors Are Watching by Debra Ginsberg next.  

What do you think your impact has been towards educating the public about the evils of non-compete agreements?

The reviews on my books have been great but I have talked to a lot of  people who are very skeptical of non-compete agreements because people don’t really want to believe that they can be deprived of a living due to their non-compete agreement.    Here are examples of the myths that people have created about non-compete agreements.

A judge would not enforce this against an employee - Besides the fact that that you’re paying $10,000 just to go in front of a judge, the truth is that state laws in most states state that the judge has to blue pencil a non-compete agreement so even if it’s unreasonable, the judge has to make it reasonable.  If it was 2 years for example, the judge may make it a year.

Every state is a right to work state - Doesn’t matter.  My lawyer said that the non-compete agreement is what rules in the court of law, not the right to work.

A company isn’t going to go after an employee because of the litigation fees.   They don’t have to.   The hiring manager will show the non-compete to their attorney and the attorney will advise the manager not to hire you because they can be sued.   They won’t cover your legal fees.  I have been told three times that my attorney has advised me not to interview your or hire you for this position due to your non-compete agreement.

The government would not stand for this.  Congress would take action.
State and local governments passed laws to protect non-compete agreements because they don’t want to regulate it.  They feel that if it is regulated, then jobs would be lost.  That is the reason the government in Georgia passed Amendment 1, which, like many other states, forces judges to blue-pencil non-compete agreements.   Chris Christie passed the trading secrets act earlier this year by a 79-0 margin, making New Jersey the 47th state to pass this act which allows companies to bring civil lawsuits against their employees like they did in the lawsuit between Google and Groupon.

How have you and your family been affected by your subjugation to a non-compete agreement?

I think people who read this may say to themselves you’re lucky to have a job.  If I want to summarize my job, it would be this.  It doesn’t matter how late I stay.  It doesn’t matter if I make significant contributions to the company.  I can assure you that I do make significant contributions to my company and they’re not recognized by management since I have not been rewarded with a raise for many years among other things.
If I were to go further in my summary about my job, I would tell you that I have to work at a high performance at all times to meet my goals and quota.  It doesn’t matter how well I did over the course of the year.  If I don’t make my goals even for a month, I would be on probation and them I would be history if that were to continue.
I’m lucky to have a wife that is supportive of me during this time.  Financially, it’s hard and we have to wonder from month to month if I will have a job.  If I’m lucky enough to get another job that I’m unqualified for since it’s out of my industry, I’d be looking at a pay cut of $15,000 if not more.   It doesn’t help that I have seen many of my colleagues in my company and my industry lose their jobs and know that they are out of the industry due to the same non-compete that I’m on.  People getting fired because the company decided to go in a different direction with a product or because someone went on probation and suffered through it because they couldn’t meet their quota and lost their job.
Sure, when you’re on probation, you can look for another job but take some time to go through the ads through Indeed or Dice.  Must have 5 years of banner ad experience.  Must have 3 years of transportation sales experience.  Do not apply for this position if you don’t know what unique visitors are.  Yet the people you are competing with for these jobs are applying for the same position have more experience than you do.
I don’t think of myself as a job hopper.  I don’t know if the grass is greener at another company.  But if people have me have a good reason to leave their employer, then they should have the right to do so.  People like me shouldn’t be forced to stay in a company because they have spent money in giving us specialized training.  This is the justification that companies and lawyers have for non-competes.  It’s a two way street but these non-compete agreements make it a one way street where the deck is stacked against the employee.
My job search has been over 5 years.  I haven’t given up on looking for another job but if you were to read my book A Hell Of  A Woman, you would more than understand what people like me and other people are going through who are on non-compete agreements.

How long have you been writing for?

On and off for about 15 years.

Why did you choose the murder mystery genre?

I’ve always heard the saying write what you know.  I’ve had a lot of short stories published at various websites that were mysteries.   I understand that and I understand non-compete agreements.
I thought that writing a book about non-compete agreements would make it sound more like a rant.  As one reviewer said, by making this a murder mystery also, it doesn’t sound preachy.   That was my goal in writing 96 Rocks and A Hell Of  A Woman.

Any final thoughts on non-competes?

Yes.  The future of non-compete agreements is stronger than ever.  Go on Google, go to news and type in non-compete.  You will see that more companies are adopting them and they’re being enforced by the courts.  You can read the links provided here and know that non-competes are growing at an alarming rate, invading a lot of companies as well as hair salons, pharmacy technicians, and even dog and cat groomers.  Look up canine oasis and you’ll see a lawsuit based on a non-compete agreement.
Other recent developments include a Doctor who signed a non-compete agreement that stated that if he worked within a 50 mile radius of his last job, he would be fined $750,000.  This has to make me wonder if this will be applied in other industries as well in non-compete agreements.
How about 2 disc jockeys in Ohio being sued because they wanted to leave their FM station and start a podcast.  The station tried to sue them in court and lost.  This is like saying that a journalist can’t have a blog.
Speaking of journalists, people on twitter may remember the lawsuit last year where Warren Stephens of Halifax Holdings bought 16 editions of the New York Times and told all the journalists that they would be on non-compete agreements that stated that they couldn’t work at another newspaper, magazine, radio station, or TV Station where Halifax had a property for 2 years even if they were terminated.  In the end, Stephens was pressured not to do this but said that any new employees would still be under this non-compete agreement.  One journalist said that this would create ownership of a story by the newspaper.
 If we are going to put people back to work in America and restore jobs in this country, the least we can to is discuss this openly and recognize that there is a problem.  Just because unemployment offices won’t update their application to have one additional question - are you having trouble finding work due to your non-compete agreement - doesn’t mean that this isn’t a problem.
 "Matthew Marx, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, conducted a study and found that one-third of workers who signed non-compete agreements ended up leaving their chosen industry all together when they changed jobs, often at a significant cost."
People are sacrificing their education, their finances, and their future just to make these non-competes work for companies.  There is no justification for people to do this.

Ron has included some links about non-compete agreements you may find interesting:

Here are the links to Ron Hummer's books:

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