- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

The D.C. Council unanimously approved legislation yesterday that prohibits television and radio stations in the District from putting "noncompete" clauses in their labor contracts.
Stations use the agreements to prevent on-air talent and some behind-the-scenes staffers from leaving immediately to go to work for a competitor. Even if an employee is fired, noncompete clauses can force them to wait often as long as one year before they can begin another job.
"Our members are very grateful to the D.C. Council," said Patricia O'Donnell, executive director of the local chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the labor union that pushed for the legislation.
The union has now set its sights on Maryland, where it hopes to get similar legislation passed next year. Some union officials feel their prospects in the state are uncertain, in part because they believe Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is too close to one of the media companies that fought the District's legislation.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, is expected to sign the District's bill, which is also subject to congressional endorsement. Once enacted, the legislation will apply only to contracts that are signed or renegotiated after Jan. 1.
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, an at-large Democrat and the bill's chief sponsor, said he expects Congress to approve the measure, too.
"I would be shocked if that didn't happen," he said.
Ms. O'Donnell estimates several hundred local television and radio employees in the District may currently be under a noncompete agreement.
Media companies argue noncompete clauses are needed to discourage competitors from stealing the on-air talent they spend big bucks to train and promote.
Chip Weinman, president of the Maryland D.C. Delaware Broadcasters Association, which lobbied against the bill, said the legislation will contribute to "a hostile business environment" in the District.
"I don't think we had a shot," he said.
Several states, including Arizona, Illinois, Maine and Massachusetts, have outlawed noncompete clauses in recent years.
Delegate Brian K. McHale, a Baltimore Democrat, will sponsor similar legislation when the Maryland General Assembly convenes in January, Ms. O'Donnell said.
The labor union pushed a similar bill in 2000, but it was introduced too late during the session, she said.
A spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich said he would want to examine the proposal before taking a position on it.
"In principle, the governor-elect opposes government interference in private contractual issues," said Henry Fawell, the spokesman.
Some union officials believe the governor-elect is too close to Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., a Hunt Valley, Md., company that lobbied against the District's legislation.
The family that owns most of the company provided Mr. Ehrlich with the use of a helicopter during his campaign for governor.
As a Baltimore County congressman, Mr. Ehrlich also intervened on Sinclair's behalf in a licensing dispute with federal regulators. "That was just garden-variety constituent service, the kind every member of Congress does every day," Mr. Fawell said.
This just in
WUSA-TV (Channel 9) is seeking a replacement for Virg Jacques, who anchored the 5 p.m. newscast with J.C. Hayward. Mr. Jacques departed this week after the CBS affiliate chose to not renew his contract. Management is expected to name a replacement before February.
Questions? Comments? Tips? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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