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

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Phil: The PRO Act in congress could not be more aptly named. It will PROhibit the free market from PROspering on behalf of PROspective employees.

Ethan: Your PROse is very PROblematic, since the PRO Act will greatly imPROve the lives of workers.

Phil: Should we tell people what we are talking about?

Ethan: I never know what you are talking about, but sure.

Phil: The U.S. House just passed, with the votes of Rep. Chellie Pingree and Rep. Jared Golden, a bill called Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). A right that, honestly, I didn’t think needed protecting. The nurses of Maine Medical Center and workers of the Portland Museum of Art seemed to have no trouble recently forming a union.

Ethan: Actually, the nurses’ recent effort is a good example of why this law is needed. Maine Med held numerous meetings forcing employees to hear why a union is a bad idea. If the PRO Act passes, those types of meetings will be illegal.

Phil: That sounds intrusively close to limiting free speech. Why shouldn’t an employer have the right to tell employees how the union will impact their own work environment?

Ethan: They can say anything they want, but unless they allow employees to hold the same mandatory meetings, they shouldn’t be able to force workers to only hear one side.

Phil: Once workers realize that they will have to pay union dues, regardless of whether they join the union, something else the PRO Act forces on employees, they may have wanted to hear what their employer had to say.

Ethan: Imagine that. Requiring people to pay for a service they are receiving, instead of allowing them to freeload.

Phil: Freeload? It’s a service they didn’t ask for or want.

Ethan: They don’t want the raise, extra benefits, and safer work environment the union will negotiate on their behalf? Well, I suppose they could then just use their free will to work someplace else.

Phil: Which comes to the crux of this argument. Free will. If people want to form a union, fine. And if they don’t, that should be just as easy. And as we have seen, the current environment is pretty balanced. Amazon workers said no. Maine nurses and museum workers said yes.

Ethan: Except it isn’t. Either in the right to organize, or in the power of the union to fully negotiate as equals. Right now employers can permanently replace striking workers or lock them out to force workers to accept a lousy contract. The PRO Act stops both of those abuses.

Phil: Just like workers have the right to walk out if they don’t like their pay or working conditions. No notice, no nothing. The free market gives the employer and employee equal freedoms.

Ethan: C’mon Phil. An employer being able to fire a worker without cause is not on the same level with a worker leaving a job. The employer will likely still be able to feed their family.

Phil: Of course not, which is why there are all kinds of laws protecting employees from being fired. You can’t fire someone for being Black, or pregnant, or gay, or transgender, etc. I support all those laws. But an employer should always be allowed to replace an employee who is not performing.

Ethan: Unfortunately, even if you are performing, your employer can fire you. We are an at-will state. So, while they can’t fire you for the reasons you list above, they can fire you for no reason at all.

Phil: And any employer who fires a good employee for no reason will not be in business for long. But giving our employers, and employees, the flexibility to be agile in our ever-changing economy is key to all of our success.

Ethan: One provision of the PRO Act provides that a worker who has been underpaid can receive unpaid back wages, even if they are an undocumented worker. Can I get your agreement on that?

Phil: Yes, but probably for different reasons than yours. I don’t want to incentivize employers to hire illegal immigrants. Allowing them to pay sub-minimum wages does just that.

Ethan: How generous.

Phil: I am nothing if not PRO-compassion.