Gaius Publius: Union-Busting by Planned Parenthood in Colorado

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

A shadow from a chain link fence falls across the Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (source)

Planned Parenthood, via its Action Fund (PAC), is one of the cornerstones of the Democratic coalition, both in standing up for the Democratic Party and being stood up for by the Democratic Party.

The national Action Fund has come under fire in intra-Party disputes. It endorsed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders while admitting that “both [are] good on reproductive health.” That’s certainly a choice they get to make.

In addition, they made sure Sanders came under their fire when he called Planned Parenthood (meaning the Action Fund, not the health care organization) “part of the establishment“:

Planned Parenthood and other progressive groups are calling out Bernie Sanders for referring to them as “part of the establishment,” saying the Vermont senator needs to show a more explicit commitment to women’s reproductive health.

“It’s a little ridiculous to call an organization Congress and Republican presidential candidates have spent six months attacking ‘establishment’ — especially when Planned Parenthood health centers are out there every day ensuring millions of often marginalized Americans have access to basic reproductive health care,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund told POLITICO in an email.

Notice the switch in terms: The Action Fund, which was criticized for its political leanings in an intra-Party dispute, claimed Sanders didn’t show enough of support for the non-political health care part of the organization — all while the Action Fund, in its Clinton endorsement, was praising Sanders as just as good on reproductive health issues as Clinton. (The deciding factor for them was that Clinton “pushes harder.” Again, that’s their choice to make.)

Sanders, of course, had to say, unnecessarily, that he would defend Planned Parenthood (the non-political health care arm) against attack, a statement that was widely taken as walking back his criticism.

If you’re a Sanders supporter, you likely noted in all of this the good part of PP (the clinics) and the “less good” part (the political arm). The health care part of the organization emerged from this dispute still known-good, while the the highly political Action Fund remained part of the problem, at least from a Sanders supporter’s perspective. The political arm, which controls political spending, is indeed part of the well funded Democratic Establishment — Sanders was right in that assessment — and acts to protect the Establishment against the real progressive insurgency that the Sanders 2016 campaign represented.

Planned Parenthood Fights Unions in Colorado

Now come two illustrations, however, about the health care part of the organization that threaten to tar its own reputation as “known good.” They are presented briefly below. Both involved Planned Parenthood in Colorado, and both involved an attempt at unionization within Planned Parenthood clinics.

For background on the Planned Parenthood union-busting story, read this good report at The Intercept. For now, this is all you need to know:

Colorado Planned Parenthood executives, with help from President Donald Trump’s labor board appointees, are fighting their health center workers’ unionization efforts in a case that could set a precedent for workers’ rights nationwide.

Ugly stuff — shades of Walmart and Amazon, in fact.

First consider this plea from Mimi Yedinak, a Planned Parenthood clinic worker, writing on Facebook. (The following was printed as a single Facebook paragraph. I’ve taken the liberty of adding paragraph breaks where appropriate since many infrequent Facebook users have trouble creating paragraphs for themselves.)

Mimi Yedinak
June 14 at 2:17pp

Friends- today is my last day working for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Many people are not aware that this past year PPRM’s clinic workers voted to create a union in order to improve issues like working conditions, wages and hours. Since we made this vote, PPRM’s management have only pushed back in order to keep us from accessing our basic employee rights.

Last night they sank to an incredible low. Some of my coworkers showed up to a PPRM fundraising event wanting to educate major donors about where their money is going and to encourage donors to specify that their money goes towards patient care and NOT towards anti-union activity (the agency has hired an anti-union lawyer whose hourly rate costs roughly the same price as an out-of-pocket medication abortion).

Instead of giving my colleagues an opportunity to inform donors, PPRM called the police on its own employees and threatened to have them arrested, including a loyal abortion provider who has been involved with this cause for over 30 years.

If you truly want to stand with Planned Parenthood then stand with its clinic workers and PLEASE get the word out to anyone you can (other donors, media, etc.) about how PPRM is treating its employees. Contact PPRM directly to let them know you support us and share this info with anyone who gives money to PPRM.

I’ve given the last two years of my life to this cause that I love so much and to see my colleagues bullied like this by the agency they have worked so hard for breaks my fucking heart. Stand up for the employees on the ground-floor like me, rather than those at the top who are fine with kicking us out of fundraisers and threatening us with unnecessary police force. Don’t let PPRM silence its employees.

#prochoice #propatient #prounion #standwithpp #droptheappeal

“Stand up for the employees on the ground-floor like me, rather than those at the top who are fine with kicking us out of fundraisers and threatening us with unnecessary police force.” Sounds like every bad-actor organization you know.

Next, note that the unionization issue seems to have escalated into the political sphere, with the local Action Fund getting involved. David Sirota’s wife Emily is running for the state legislature in Colorado. He recently tweeted this:

Seems she criticized the anti-union actions of local Planned Parenthood clinic executives, and the PP RR’s Action Fund started spending money, apparently $50,000 to date, to try to defeat her. Keep in mind that Emily Sirota is a strong pro-choice advocate, and this is a Democratic primary.

You’d think they’d have better ways to spend $50,000, given to them in good faith to carry on the real fight, not the fight to keep clinic workers’ wages low.

Ryan Grim tweeted his support for Emily Sirota in this dispute:

To which David Sirota replied:

This shows to too many what the “Democratic Establishment” is made of. Note again that this isn’t just the local Action Fund acting. The local PAC is defending vigorous Walmart-like anti-union behavior by the clinic.

How Will the Democratic Establishment Respond? How Will Voters Respond?

The 2018 elections are fast approaching and Democratic leaders are betting the farm that they can run and win as “not Trump.” Of course, that’s their choice to make. But will it work if stories like these keep popping up? Two key questions emerge as this unfolds.

How will Democratic leaders respond to this story, if they respond at all? And how will voters respond to stories like these — for examples, stories about widespread Democratic Party support for the comically corrupt Joe Crowley in his primary race against an actual and viable progressive challenger, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

It’s possible to brand yourself by your advertising, and many have made money selling that service. It’s also possible to brand yourself by your deeds — for that, no help is needed.

If the Democratic Party continues to brand itself as what caused many voters to rise up against it in the last election, what will its future be?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Mattski

    “[S]hows its true colors” is an essentialist assertion, and not useful, even likely to alienate readers who see PP as the ONLY option available for the simplest kinds of reproductive care. There’s nothing at the core of PP’s mission that’s fundamentally evil, as this might suggest (though it may have its paternalistic tendencies). It is just another nonprofit in the meshes of late neoliberalism, its leadership having long since bought into the system’s various rationales. This fairly important point notwithstanding, I appreciate the heads up.

    1. pretzelattack

      but they aren’t acting on that core mission, they are screwing their own workers with the help of the trump administration. that’s one of the things they buy in to, and they aren’t just hapless victims of cognitive capture, they are spending money that could be spent on advancing their “core mission” to torpedo the career of someone who supports that core mission, because she opposes the way they exploit their own workers. i didn’t see anything in the article that is critical of the core mission, much less anything that implies it is “fundamentally evil”. where is the link you see between opposing union busting and dirty politics, and opposing the core mission of pp?

        1. Telly

          How does that help this discussion?. Even if “true colours” was a essentialist statement that doesn’t give PP any creditability for it’s actions, it’s just a giant red herring. These petty critiques don’t get at the heart of issues, there’s no need to deconstruct PP’s actions, they clearly are suppressing workers. It’s time we start looking at actions and pay less attention to subjective critiques of words. It’s what people and institutions do, not what they say that matters.

        2. Adams

          PP’s support of Gurney Joe Lieberman’s independent bid for Senate after he was defeated in the CT primary demonstrated that PP’s commitment to its “core mission” is conditional, and secondary to what is considers the “political realities.”

          Lieberman asserted that a hospital should have the right to refuse to provide all medically available treatment options to a woman who has been raped. She should just be wheeled back out to the ambulance and taken to another hospital. Wonder how that works in, say, rural Colorado.

          True colors?

      1. lyman alpha blob

        I really don’t see what the problem is here. PP can simply have services performed by the gig economy. Rather than having a permanent staff, they can just hire people from TaskRabbit to perform gynecological exams.

        ‘Ms. Jones, the “doctor” will be with you shortly, just as soon as she finishes her Uber drop off’

    2. pretzelattack

      trying again
      there is nothing in pp’s core mission which requires union busting and dirty political tricks.

      1. Mattski

        Yes. And anger is appropriate. But it’s also about the method of analysis. I’m working to see the functions of a system in this (individual) case, to apply the lessons of such a critique more widely. Especially since we’re trying to reach people/one another, I don’t see this as pedantry.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      MBAs have invaded the management of not for profits. This is the sort of behavior you get as a result. Look at the way MBAs have colonized the adminisphere of universities and what has happened there. It used to be that administrators had a significant representation of older alumi who liked hanging out at their alma mater and having a job that was high status in the local community but didn’t pay all that well worked for them. Those days seem to be long over.

      As reader Alison described it via e-mail:

      On academic administrators – yes, featherbedding. I suspect that besides being cowardly, politically inept, and in disarray (too busy with petty bickering), many academics find it unseemly to oppose “authority” – they have spent their whole lives kissing ass and being docile and obedient in order to advance in the system and get their posts, and they do not want to admit that they are being screwed over after all that, or that their colleagues are (they do not care about those who do not make it). There is some hand-wringing but little effective action, disruption, prevention. Meanwhile ignorant, greedy career administrators are squandering all the money and exploiting an army of adjuncts. It’s not exactly conducive to brilliant and interesting scholarship. The screaming irony is the vogue for writing about power and hegemony and postcolonial this and that in suffocating jargon.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        Yes, but it’s worse than that. In addition to MBA-itis, the entire NGO space is invaded by 1) a fake morality arguing that NGO workers’ rights ought to be secondary to “the cause” and 2) the same rampant “meritocratic” status-climbing that invades the private sector, in which those workers who play the game are rewarded at the expense of others who are, at the least, confused and conflicted due to cognitive dissonance.

        To Yves’ point, a check of Guidestar reveals a sense of how “professional” these operations are. The most recent 990 for Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood (FY 2016 ending 9/30/16) shows these salaries of top officials:
        Vicki Cowart, Pres and CEO: $272K
        John Duffy, CFO: $173K
        Gail Kelly, COO: $180K
        Mary Ellen Williams, Chief Philanthropy Officer: $157K
        Elizabeth Alderman, VP of Public Affairs: $103K
        Savita Ginde, Chief Medical Officer: $300K

        They also have a $10 million endowment.

        None of this is to detract from the excellent medical work PP does. But they are, as Bernie noted, part of the establishment.

        1. EoH

          One would think that for an organization like PP, workers’ rights would be paramount. It is an essential principle, one that dramatically benefits PP. It also enables many of its patients to seek out PP. It is why so many people support it with vigor. This position by RMPP is execrable.

          The salary ranges you cite suggest capture and administrative bloat. They all look about 20% too high, the CEO more than that. At least one of those jobs needs to go. The COO seems redundant. But that’s part of the MBA capture mantra, mimicking the corporate format, pay, staffing levels, the disparity between the top and the median incomes, and most obscenely in the anti-union bias.

          Just as interesting would be who is on RMPP’s board. That collective supports this MBA mantra, the bloat, the pay creap at the top while presumably remaining stagnant for everyone else, and the anti-union bias.

    4. jrs

      but those people who see PP as the only option available, and sure it’s true, might have more options with widescale unionization. The reason it is the only option available is poverty and lack of healthcare.

      (and yes of course as an aside, in a decent healthcare system PP would not be anyone’s only option)

    5. Gaius Publius

      Mattski, thanks for your concern, but the phrase you quoted — “[S]hows its true colors” — appears nowhere in the piece. I never criticized the mission of the clinic arm of the organization.

      What I did criticize, aside from the union-busting itself (and the implied complicity with Trump’s team), was the Democratic Party establishment’s constant self-branding as sharing in a national culture that tolerates these abuses.

      That self-branding will leave a mark in 2018, in which the “wave,” if it materializes, will be less than its potential strength; and in 2020, when they could lose the WH again because much of the 42% of the country that identifies as independent just won’t pull the lever for them — especially if they screw up the primary (again).

      That said, I do share the concern of many that PP’s clinical arm, a desperately needed service, is diminishing its own full capability by these actions.


  2. Eclair

    Obviously, this report is fake news, planted by The Russians, to weaken support for a baby-killing organization. And, everyone knows that unreasonable demands for living wages, health care, pensions and vacations (like those of The Damned Swedes who swan about the sunnier countries of the planet during their four week holidays) by The Unions were the reason our industries up and left the US to relocate to countries where non-unionized workers are happy to work for pennies a day. Even though a couple hundred or thousand might jump out of windows in despair or be crushed by collapsing factories.

  3. Carla

    This is how corporations behave. This is why we can’t allow corporations to dominate our political lives, and to keep them from doing that, we have to pass a constitutional amendment that ends corporate personhood and money as speech. Yes, we must end personhood rights for non-profit corporations and all other corporate entities as well. Check out House Joint Resolution 48. Corporations may have privileges granted to them by statute (in other words, by us) but they cannot have Constitutional rights, which are for human persons only.

  4. divadab

    Great Article. It seems to me that teh decision-makers at PP don’t want to share the wealth with the people who do the actual work. They might make less money for themselves.

    Right now I have a hard time thinking of this organization as other than morally degenerate. That they supported Clinton also a case in point.

  5. diptherio

    In case anyone is wondering, Planned Parenthood’s national offices can be reached at 202-973-4800.

  6. saurabh

    I remember a similar story about ACORN (before the Republicans killed it). My brother has a similar story working for MASSPIRG, a Nader-inspired environmental group. This is a larger problem with the nonprofit space, which is run by corporate managers just like the for-profit space. The problem extends beyond worker rights and touches the mission.

    I recommend reading this NC classic on managerialism in the Red Cross, a great breakdown of how the corporate infestation spreads.

    1. flora

      Thanks for the link. I’m watching the same thing play out at my uni with similar results.

  7. tc10021

    IRS Form 990 can be quite instructive.

    But when ‘charities’ have nine figure balance sheets, they kinda sorta stop being charities, imho.

  8. Eclair

    Well, there would be no need for PP if the US had single payer health care, that actually provided services for woman throughout their reproductive lives. Hmmmm. Maybe that’s why many ‘liberals’ are not behind a national health care campaign.

  9. Greg T

    Planned Parenthood is firmly caught in what Jane Hamsher once termed, “ the veal pen. “ it’s one of a number of organizations who receive support from the institutional Democrat Party. As such, the leadership of these groups are firmly committed to the neoliberal project. Part of that project involves the perpetuation of the low wage economy.
    Gaius’ essay, as usual, weaves the connections in an easy to understand narrative.

  10. Denver Voter

    Thanks for bringing this to wider attention. The part about the police being called on employees protesting at a fundraiser is news to me.

    I am a voter in the district in question and am gladly supporting Emily Sirota whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person. I am disgusted by the behavior of Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, an organization I have donated to in the past.

    I can attest to the fact that PP is spending heavily on Emily Sirota’s primary opponent. I’ve received between 5 and 10 large format full color mailers to that effect. I am at least heartened to see an Emily Sirota sign in the yard of one of my neighbors. I hope she wins!

  11. anon

    I’m very split on this. In theory, I’m pro-union. Higher wages for workers that lack bargaining power seems a no-brainer. On the other hand, every time I’ve interacted with an actual union, it has been awful. Awful in the sense that practically, unions don’t seem to just promote wages. They come with a bunch of ridiculous rules that only seem to hamstring the business that they work with.

    “You can’t move that light box to the building next door. You need to fill out a form and a union employee will move it for you. But also, it is after 3:00 and all the union employees have left already. So you’ll need to wait until tomorrow afternoon to move that light box 100 feet. “

    “Union workers can’t assemble that using this new technique, you need to use this 20 year out of date technique. No you can’t use an outside contractor that knows the new technique.”

    “You can’t package that delicate part yourself, you need to use a union shipper who will use a standard process that will almost certainly damage that delicate part.”

    The common thread here is that unions don’t seek to give bargaining power to workers; they seek to monopolize a business’s labor. And the same logic that applies against monopolies elsewhere, applies to unions.

    I’m not a business owner, just someone frustrated at being unable to get things done efficiently. I wish there was a compromise between the two extremes but I don’t know of one.

Comments are closed.