Anti-trust and hiring employees

Here is an issue that I’m not really sure how I feel about. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal – DOJ, Tech Firms Near Deal in Hiring Probe:

Several of the U.S.’s largest technology companies are in advanced talks with the Justice Department to avoid a court battle over whether they colluded to hold down wages by agreeing not to poach each other’s employees.
The companies, which include Google Inc., Apple Inc., Intel Corp., Adobe Systems Inc., Intuit Inc. and Walt Disney Co. unit Pixar Animation, are in the final stages of negotiations with the government, according to people familiar with the matter.

As a side note, I note that this list does not include Oracle and HP — reference their ongoing war over the hiring of Mark Hurd.
My ambivalence on this issue is whether such restrictions help or hinder innovation. The companies are arguing that such agreements are needed to reduce the risk of company collaboration — i.e. that having employees from different companies working together increases the likelihood that one of those companies may identify one of those other employees as a target for recruitment. On the other hand, worker mobility has been an important part of the Silicon Valley success story. In fact, some have argued that the lack of non-compete agreements in California as been an important part of the employee mobility and the subsequent positive information flows. (See earlier postings about an Oracle/IBM fight on a top hire).
At least the action show that folks in at least one part of the government are taking seriously the idea that employees are a resource. As Mary Adams points out in her piece Are Workers a Cost or a Resource in Your Organization?, a lot of companies still don’t get it. It would be interesting to see the DOJ economic analysis after it is all finished.

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