Bethany Ng

WORKERS OF THE LOCAL Planned Parenthood branch have been seriously considering joining a union. But the union and the Planned Parenthood bosses each accuse the other side of being anti-choice when it comes to letting workers decide their own futures.

Employees of the local Planned Parenthood clearly work hard: In 2009, the 10 Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette (PPCW) clinics distributed 333,000 units of birth control and performed 22,000 pregnancy tests in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

An election on Wednesday, August 10 (after the Mercury went to press), determined whether 160 of the nonprofit's reproductive health care workers will join ranks with the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The union's formation or failure could affect health care services for tens of thousands of Oregonians annually. Oregon has the highest per-capita use of Planned Parenthood in the nation, with one in 10 Oregon women relying on the nonprofit for their reproductive health care needs ["Let's Talk about Sex," News, Feb 18, 2010].

Unlike many unionizing campaigns, the workers at the local Planned Parenthoods don't have a laundry list of complaints. Instead, the drive for the union revolves around having more of a voice in the planning and administration of PPCW, as well as "gaining a livable wage for all staff" and maintaining health benefits.

"There have not been specific complaints," says SEIU Local 49 President Meg Niemi. "People want more of a say over how the organization works and is run on a local level."

But SEIU alleges that Planned Parenthood's management was trying to squelch the local union before the election.

A union rep told KBOO radio that management had been holding "captive meetings" and sending out intimidating emails. Niemi also says that Planned Parenthood has been "restricting workers' speech and rights" by asking workers to not discuss the union during work.

PPCW President David Greenberg says the management has not held any meetings specifically about the union drive and that, on the contrary, some employees have felt intimidated by receiving frequent phone calls from the union at their homes.

"Planned Parenthood has always stood for choice," says Greenberg. "Our employees, like our patients, should be fully informed to make decisions about their future."

A review of the emails show Greenberg trying to stay within the law despite being against the union's formation.

In multiple emails, Greenberg told employees to weigh the arguments and make up their own minds. But in an email dated July 19, he writes that the union may be promising more than it can deliver and says, "I hope you will not vote to have SEIU represent you."

The union will dramatically increase costs for PPCW, says Greenberg, since the nonprofit will need to shell out for legal counsel to engage in union negotiations—beginning with the lawyer they hired to help them during the union campaign process.