Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil: First up this week, a personal check-in on the back surgery you had last week, then we can begin your weekly “political therapy” session (“PT,” get it?).

Ethan: So cheesy, but it went well, thanks. Although, it will take some time before I am boxing again.

Phil: Seriously, from my own experience I would say take it slow. Fully recover before you reenter the ring.

Ethan: I appreciate that. Thankfully, the nurses at Maine Medical Center have been remarkable. I just wish the hospital administration wasn’t working overtime to intimidate them against forming a union.

Phil: Only 96 words into a column about your health, and somehow you bring it back to politics. Did the surgeon do anything to surgically reduce your left leanings?

Ethan: I actually went into the surgery center wearing my “This patient wants you to VOTE YES!” sticker. Turn every crisis into an opportunity, to paraphrase John D. Rockefeller.

Phil: Well, now that you have started it … While I certainly support the right of workers to form a union, if they voluntarily choose to do so, I also support the right of a business to educate their workers on the implications of that decision. Giving people information is not “intimidation.”

Ethan: I’d agree with you if Maine Health were actually allowing information from both sides to be shared. Currently, nurses are being pulled from patient care to be lectured on how bad unions are, yet RNs who support the union may not distribute information during their shifts about why they support the union or even set foot in the building when they aren’t working.

Phil: I am sure you understand that during COVID a hospital might not want extra personnel roaming the floors.

Ethan: Sure, but then why are they letting their out-of-state union-busting contractors, whom they vaccinated ahead of Maine seniors, distribute info any time they choose, but pro-union organizers aren’t allowed in the building? At the same time, they paid their elective surgeons six-figure salaries to stay home, while refusing to pay voter-mandated hazard pay to minimum-wage workers.

Phil: Are you sure your anesthesia has worn off? We all can agree these were bad management decisions, yet none of your ranting has any bearing on whether a union is good for the nurses and patients of Maine Med.

Ethan: Look, the bottom line is that this election is about one simple question, “Do nurses want the right to negotiate with Maine Health as equals regarding wages, benefits, and working conditions, or do they want Maine Health to make all those decisions for them?”

Phil: I would phrase that question a little differently. “Do you want to be able to negotiate your own employment contract, based upon your individual experience and credentials, or do you want your working conditions negotiated into a one-size fits all contract?”

Ethan: Except we are an at-will state. There is no employment contract. The current negotiation is management saying “Take it or leave it.”

Phil: The beauty of capitalism is that both the employer and the employee have the power to say no (or yes). And with our current nursing shortage, every nurse in Maine is in a position of strength. An RN being able to say “leave it” is a powerful motivator for the employer to listen.

Ethan: Except, in your scenario, the employee won’t be able to pay their mortgage. However, I agree that listening is a key piece of this struggle. When I was at the surgery center last week, not feeling listened to was the number one reason I heard as to why nurses are so unsatisfied.

Phil: If that’s the case, then bad management is leading to this unionization drive. I am just not sure demanding that a union steward step in between an employee and their supervisor is the right solution. I just urge everyone to remember, once you have a union, it is very hard to go back.

Ethan: And I would urge everyone, in light of Maine Medical President Jeff Saunders sending everyone a video of himself telling nurses to vote against the union, remember the old saying, “If your boss is saying you don’t need a union, you probably need one.”

Phil: I don’t think John D. Rockefeller said that.

Ethan: Nope.