Major Reproductive Rights Groups Are Refusing to Recognize Their Staff Unions

A Planned Parenthood affiliate and the Guttmacher Institute are making their workers hold unnecessary union elections.

Major Reproductive Rights Groups Are Refusing to Recognize Their Staff Unions
A giant inflatable rat makes its way down the street in midtown New York City on November 26, 2019, where it will sit outside a company’s office. American unions have used ballooned rodents to highlight unfair labor practices since the 1990s. Photo:Timothy A. Clary/AFP (Getty Images)

Workers at a Planned Parenthood affiliate that covers Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota and the national reproductive rights research organization Guttmacher Institute both unionized this month, and neither employer will voluntarily recognize their staff’s union. The workers will need to hold elections—like the ones you may have read about at Amazon facilities and at Starbucks stores across the country—which delay the process of bargaining a first contract and allow companies to spread anti-union messages.

Planned Parenthood North Central States United announced on Thursday that it had formed a union and filed for an election. As one worker said in a statement: “As an organization, I know that we can do better. Caretakers often cannot voice issues on the job in a way that leads to any meaningful change. We trudge on until we’re burnt out, and then we leave.” The union represents more than 400 workers at 28 clinics across five states. (Both Dakotas have trigger laws on the books that would ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade, which it’s expected to do this month.)

But the union wrote on Twitter Tuesday that “PPNCS is choosing to not voluntarily recognize our union. This is despite having filed with a strong majority and overwhelming support at over 60 percent.” PPNCS United said that while they didn’t expect voluntary recognition, they were still disappointed by the move. They pledged to win their election.

Workers at the Guttmacher Institute—an organization known for its research on abortion, birth control and other reproductive health topics and which we linked to above on trigger laws—announced their union representing about 60 employees on May 2. In December 2021, Prism published an investigation into what current and former Guttmacher employees said was a toxic work culture where management policies pushed out staffers of color. As one worker told The 19th, they formed a union because “We’re looking to improve the workplace for all of us—from salaries…to ensuring there are paths for promotion to the need for conflict resolution processes to involving staff in decision-making.”

Guttmacher Employees United shared on Friday that not only did the company not voluntarily recognize the union, it had also hired the union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis PC. Jackson Lewis has advised companies on how to remain “union-free” and touts its experience in building “comprehensive preventive labor relations programs.” The Guttmacher union also said the company demanded months of no strike and non-disparagement clauses” in order to get voluntary recognition.

Molly Gage, vice president of human resources at PPNCS, said in a statement to Jezebel:

“Choice and autonomy are core to the Planned Parenthood mission. Just as all people must be able to make their own decisions regarding their health care, employee’s [sic] must have the opportunity to be heard on the issue of union representation. We support employee’s [sic] decisions about whether to be represented by a union and want every union-eligible employee’s voice to be heard. As we so often say at PPNCS, elections are the essence of democracy. Our staff make our mission possible, and as we work together to empower our patients and achieve our mission, we will work to support the election process underway.”

Jezebel contacted Guttmacher for comment and did not hear back before publication.

Billionaire MacKenzie Scott has donated to both organizations, though before their workers went public with union drives. Scott donated $15 million to Guttmacher in February and an undisclosed amount to PPNCS in March. (Planned Parenthood said the amount given to its national office and 21 affiliates totalled $275 million.) Scott is a billionaire thanks to her ex-husband Jeff Bezos, a notorious union buster. Jezebel could not contact Scott for comment on the union avoidance at organizations she’s donated to as she doesn’t do interviews and does not have a website for her philanthropic efforts, communicating with the public only through her Medium blog.

In a statement announcing Scott’s donation, Guttmacher wrote: “In allocating these vital funds, the Institute will be guided by the core principles of its Strategic Framework: equity and justice, collaboration, nimbleness, integrity, and taking a global view.” Apparently they’re not interested in equity and justice for their own employees, though.

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