Non-competes, banks and farms: Five key elements of Biden’s executive order
President Biden’s sweeping executive order on competition targets industries from banking and airlines to technology and health care, declaring war on corporations over anti-competitive practices.
It aims to encourage innovation and competition, and boost the U.S. economy, through dozens of consumer-focused and worker-focused provisions.
Here are five key elements of the president’s massive executive order.
Boosts leverage for workers
Biden’s most notable move toward giving workers more power is the order would ban or limit noncompete agreements used by employers to prevent employees from moving to rival firms.
One in three businesses in the U.S. require a worker to sign a non-compete clause, according to the White House.
Other provisions to directly help workers, and target certain practices of businesses, include a ban on unnecessary licensing restrictions and crack down on employers sharing data on workers with one another.
Nearly 30 percent of jobs in the U.S. require a license, according to the White House. Biden said at the executive order signing ceremony at the White House on Friday that these licensing requirements hinder military families.
“Look, it can’t be a significant burden to get a new license in a new state. That burden can’t be around anymore,” Biden said.
Worker unions have praised Biden for making corporations change their practices from non-competes to wage data sharing. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International, the union for 1.3 million workers in food and health care, applauded the commitment “to creating a level playing field for American workers.”
The business sector pushed back on the order. The Chamber of Commerce said it “smacks of a ‘government knows best’ approach to managing the economy” and the National Association of Manufacturers said the actions “threaten to undo our progress by undermining free markets.”
Tackles concentrated corporate power
The technology, health care, and agriculture sectors are targeted in this order, which encourages antitrust agencies to focus their enforcement efforts on responses to corporate consolidation.
It allows for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to enforce the antitrust laws “vigorously” and to step up challenges to past mergers.
The order directs the FTC to also work on the issue of hospital consolidation, arguing that this practice can be harmful to patients. Ten health care systems control a quarter of the market, according to the White House, due to mergers.
To protect family farmers, it calls on the Department of Agriculture to stop practices of meat processors that it considers abusive.
“The markets for seeds, equipment, feed, and fertilizer are now dominated by just a few large companies, meaning family farmers and ranchers now have to pay more for these inputs,” the White House said in a statement.
Democrats in Congress have also been focused on this issue. The Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is holding a hearing next week on the rise and concentration of corporate market power and how this increased concentration is harming consumers, workers and small businesses.
Aims to lower the prices of drugs
Biden’s move to lower drug prices by allowing imports of cheaper drugs from other countries was part of his health care plan during his presidential campaign.
Before Friday, the Biden administration would point to congressional efforts on lowering drug pricing, which involves legislation to allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices.
The new order directs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work with states on importing prescription drugs from Canada, and directs officials to develop a plan to lower drug prices in 45 days. Biden on Friday noted that a “handful” of companies control the market for vital medicines.
“As a result, Americans pay two and a half times more for prescription drugs than in any other leading country,” he said.
The order also issues new rules so hearing aids can be sold over the counter. Hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars and can’t be sold in pharmacies.
“That’s something the last administration was supposed to get done but didn’t do. We’re going to get it done,” Biden said.
Looks out for consumers
The travel industry is making a comeback following its depression during the coronavirus pandemic and now the Biden administration is targeting certain practices that it feels harms consumers.
The order directs the Transportation Department to issue rules requiring that consumers are refunded for fees when baggage is delayed or when the airline doesn’t provide a service, such as if the plane’s WiFi is broken.
It also gives the department power to consider issuing new rules that would require baggage, change and cancellation fees to be clearly disclosed to the customer.
In banking, the order seeks to help consumers to switch banks more easily. It requires banks to allow customers to take their financial transaction data with them to a competitor.
The U.S. has lost 70 percent of its banks over the past two decades due largely to mergers and acquisitions, according to the White House. Additionally, it’s difficult to switch banks because banks made it hard to take financial transitional history data to a new bank.
The order also aims to help people make more educated decisions about their food. It directs the Department of Agriculture to issue new rules for defining when meat can be labeled a “product of USA,” which the administration claims can also be a boost for American farmers.
It would direct the department to develop another standard for labeling, which would allow consumers to know when buying products if its producer treats workers fairly.
Bringing back net neutrality
Obama-era net neutrality rules could also be reinstated under this order. The president “encourages” the Federal Communications Commission to restore the rules, which prohibited internet service providers from blocking and throttling content and from charging for speed.
The rules were undone by the Trump administration, spurring a series of legal challenges and failed attempts at congressional action to reinstate them.
Internet service providers are further targeted in this order. It prevents internet service providers from making deals with landlords so tenants are limited in their choices, in another effort to look out for consumers. More than 65 million Americans live in a place with only one high speed internet provider, Biden said Friday.
The order also cracks down on Big Tech’s efforts to purchase competitors, gather personal information, and certain competition practices that impact small businesses.
“No more tolerance for abusive actions by monopolies, no more bad mergers that lead to mass layoffs, higher prices, fewer options for workers and consumers alike,” Biden said Friday.