Pro-union and pro-choice activists in Colorado are dismayed that while they should work together to defend their overlapping agendas against legislative attacks, they’re battling one another in a divisive labor dispute.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) officials insist it would welcome a unionized workforce at all of its clinics in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, but the regional health-care organization is fighting a decision to establish a union by workers in 14 of its 18 clinics in central and northern Colorado.
In November, Paula Sawyer, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), gave Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105 the green light to form a union at 14 of PPRM’s 24 clinics, stating that the her decision to exclude ten clinics was in keeping with labor regulations that take geographic and other barriers into account in determining acceptable union groups, referred to as bargaining units.
The Colorado locations “have a substantial community of interest distinct from the community of interest they may share with employees in the Four Corners Region of Colorado, southern Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada,” Sawyer wrote.
Once their bargaining unit was approved by the NLRB, Planned Parenthood workers voted in December to unionize, only to have Planned Parenthood block the unionization effort by appealing to the President Trump’s NLRB, arguing, as it has been since last year, that the regional NLRB director erred in allowing the exclusion of ten of PPRM’s clinics.
“With less than 40 percent of all our health center employees voting to form a union, we asked the National Labor Relations Board to reconsider the exclusion of ten of our health centers,” PPRM said in a statement to Rewire News. “We value the long history of our partnership with unions and believe in the important contributions labor makes in our communities. And we value deeply the choice of every single employee who could be impacted by the important decision to form a union.”
In April, the NLRB ruled in PPRM’s favor, agreeing in a 2-1 vote to review the NLRB regional director’s ruling, with two Trump appointees opposing SEIU on the matter.
In dissenting from the board’s decision last month, Democrat Lauren McFerran wrote that “daunting geographic barriers could be prohibitive to employees’ right to choose and engage in collective bargaining.”
Catherine Owen, who oversaw PPRM surgical sites in Denver, Durango, Ft. Collins, Colorado Springs, and Albuquerque, before leaving the organization in January, agrees with the NLRB decision.
“What I don’t like about this, and what goes against our mission of inclusivity, is singling out certain staff members because of where they are in the region,” Owen told Rewire News, adding that she “100 percent” supports the workers’ unionization goal. “I have a big problem with that. And if that bargaining unit is getting positive benefits from being in the union, it goes against our mission, it goes against our ethics, it goes against our purpose to not include every one of our staff members in that bargaining unit.”
Dominique Silverman, a lead union organizer, said she hopes to expand the labor union to all of PPRM’s clinics.
“This is this first step,” Silverman told Rewire News. “It makes sense for the bargaining unit to include the clinics in Colorado that have the most contact with each other. We share patients. We share information. There are a lot of logistical problems with organizing across state lines. We really wanted to keep it within the people who really wanted it, and that was in the clinics in central Colorado.”
Silverman, who’s worked as a PPRM health center assistant for about two years, said she’s fighting for better wages, more control over scheduling, more input into management, more transparency, and better patient care.
“If this were something that was going to hurt the organization, I wouldn’t be part of it, because I love Planned Parenthood so much,” said Silverman, echoing sentiments of the bargaining unit. “I just really think it’s going to help the organization, and that’s why I am so dedicated to it.”
Planned Parenthood workers have formed unions in a handful of states, including Oregon.