Sen. Rubio proposes end to non-competes for blue collar careers

Former North Carolina factory manager Keith Bollinger told a panel spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio that his back was against a wall when his then-employer presented him with a non-compete.

"I felt my job was at risk. I had a family, a young son, a wonderful wife, so I signed it," explained Bollinger.

When he went to work for a competitor, he faced a costly legal battle.

"We wiped out our savings, relied on credit cards, I got loans from family and friends, otherwise I would have lost everything," Bollinger recalled.

Sen. Rubio told the panel, "Fourteen percent of workers who earn less than $40,000 a year are bound by non-compete agreements."

He said Bollinger's case is an example of why he proposed the Freedom to Compete Act. It would block employers from requiring low-wage workers to sign non-compete agreements.

St. Petersburg employment attorney James Fakhoury said cases like Bollinger's are becoming more common.

"They're deli workers, they're janitors, they're really just low paid individuals that are subject to these agreements and they can't make a living elsewhere because they have an agreement that says they're not allowed to, and they're scared at the same time because they don't want that company to come after them," said Fakhoury.

He believes some employers are going too far in protecting their interests.

"Historically, non-competes were reserved for executives and high-ranking employees that really had a lot of stake in a company and if they left, it really hurt the company," Fakhoury explained.

Bollinger hopes the legislation will protect other workers from experiencing what he went through.

"I don't think I'll ever recover from it and neither will my family," he added.

One study found that 20% of workers were subjected to non-competes. Fakhoury said if a worker is faced with a non-compete or if they've signed one, they should seek the advice of an attorney to see if they can get out of it.

This story was reported in Tampa, Fla.