Maine’s two U.S. House members are among a bipartisan majority pushing for passage of a bill strongly supported by unions that would strengthen their hand.

Both 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, both Democrats, are among the 76 House members who have signed a letter put together by Golden calling for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the measure up for a vote on the House floor soon, a request she granted late Thursday.

U.S. Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree, Democrats from Maine

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, would overhaul the law to offer an array of new protections for unions and organized labor, probably the biggest rewrite of labor law since 1935. A majority of House members are cosponsors.

Golden said Thursday that when he travels his district he sees that Mainers with the best-paying jobs and benefits “are all union” members, whether they’re building ships at Bath Iron Works, teaching or nursing.

At a time when income inequality continues to grow, the lawmaker said, it’s clear that stronger unions are “certainly part of the solution.”

The bill sought by Pingree and Golden would repeal the right-to-work laws adopted in 27 states, mostly in the Sun Belt, making it easier to organize unions and shift the rules that determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor toward a more union-friendly stance.


Supporters say the proposal would, if adopted into law, lead to higher wages, better benefits and safer working conditions.

Not everyone agrees.

Critics say the bill would hinder business and slow the economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which vehemently opposes the bill, called it a wish list for organized labor and insisted its passage would hurt the economy.

“If there is a worse piece of legislation in the history of American labor relations,” said the GOP-friendly National Legal and Policy Center, “one would be hard-pressed to find it.”

Golden said, however, the percentage of American workers in unions has plummeted since the 1950s because of “a decadeslong effort to hobble unions” by companies that want to avoid paying fair wages.

Following a party line vote two months ago by members of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, the panel issued a report that said the PRO Act aims “to safeguard workers’ full freedom of association and to remedy longstanding weaknesses that fail to protect workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain.”


“These weaknesses,” the report said, “have contributed to the decline of union membership, which in turn has contributed to wage stagnation and greater income inequality.”

The panel’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, said in a prepared statement that “evidence and experience demonstrate that labor unions are one of the most powerful tools workers have to improve the standard of living for themselves and their families.”

“The PRO Act is a comprehensive proposal to ensure that workers have the right to stand together and negotiate for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions,” Scott said.

However, Republicans on the panel said the measure “does nothing to modernize labor law. It merely doubles down on an antiquated worldview of the American economy and a coercive model of unionization that has failed to attract the support of American workers in the 21st century.”

They said it would stifle economic growth while clamping down on the freedom of individual workers who may have no wish to participate in a union.

Union leaders have cited the measure as a top priority for labor and hope that getting it passed by the House this year foreshadows success in pushing it through the Senate as well in 2021, when they hope it will receive a more friendly reception among senators and the White House.


“As billionaires and corporations amass unimaginable wealth in this country, workers continue to struggle with stagnant wages, poor working conditions and the inability to exercise their basic right to collectively bargain due to a system of laws rigged against them,” Cynthia Phinney, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, said in a prepared statement.

Phinney called the bill “a common-sense measure that will finally protect the rights of working people to form unions and give them the opportunity to bargain for a fair share of the wealth that they create.”

Jason Shedlock, executive director of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council, said in a news release that it is “high time Washington strikes a meaningful blow against corporate greed.”

Golden said that with populism on the rise, politicians would be wise to take a close look at the need for more union membership.

“Frankly, I’m tired” of the way some criticize unions, he said, when so many people are frustrated that they can’t get ahead precisely because they haven’t got a union pushing for better wages and benefits.

The measure is slated for a vote in the House by mid-February. If it passes, as expected, nobody thinks the Republican-controlled Senate will take up the bill this year, particularly since Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already shelved more than 400 measures passed by the House since Democrats took it over following the 2018 midterm election.

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