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Antitrust laws and the protection of workers

Since the embrace of antitrust’s consumer welfare standard in the 1980s, the welfare of workers has been neglected, and the focus of antitrust policy has been solely the welfare of consumers. As a result, antitrust policy has tolerated wage-fixing conspiracies that should be per se illegal based on weak procompetitive assertions. Promised layoffs following mergers have often been considered “efficiencies.” Moreover, up until recently, antitrust agencies have not addressed employment non-compete agreements. These agreements have proliferated, and challenges to non-competes have had unpredictable outcomes under conflicting state laws.

But things are starting to change. In 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) blocked a merger in the book publishing industry based entirely around a theory of writer (worker) harm. The DOJ also pursued and secured criminal charges against a manager of a company for entering a no-poach agreement with a rival to not raise the wages of nurses working in the Clark County School District and to not hire nurses from each other. Not to be left out, in January 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed a rule that would ban all post-employment non-compete agreements.

The University of Utah has been at the vanguard of this burgeoning movement to reinvigorate antitrust enforcement. In 2019, the University of Utah Department of Economics, led by Professors Mark Glick and Marshall Steinbaum, organized a conference entitled “A New Future for Antitrust.” The conference developed a set of principles for the reform and refocusing of antitrust law in the era of “big tech” entitled “The Utah Statement.”

Building from that foundation, in October 2022, the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, working in conjunction with the University of Utah Department of Economics and the Antitrust Section of the Utah Bar, held a symposium titled “The New Roaring Twenties: The Progressive Agenda for Antitrust and Consumer Protection Law.” FTC Chair Lina Khan was the keynote speaker. A new interdisciplinary center was hatched, called the Utah Project, dedicated to the study of antitrust and consumer protection law in the College of Social and Behavioral Science.

And to inaugurate its annual Spring Forum, the Utah Project welcomes two antitrust leaders to deliver keynotes: FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya and Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Jonathan Kanter. Both speakers will address important topics at the intersection of labor and antitrust. A panel of economic and legal experts will follow, and will be joined by the two keynotes.

This event is co-sponsored by the Utah Project, the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, the University of Utah Department of Economics, and the Antitrust Section of the Utah Bar.

Financial support for the Utah Project has been provided by the Institute for New Economic Thinking and the Economic Security Project.