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‘Give Them Their Union’: Colorado’s Gubernatorial Candidates Speak Out on Planned Parenthood Union Dispute

Jason Salzman

Federal regulators approved a plan for workers to unionize at 14 of 18 Planned Parenthood clinics in Colorado. Planned Parenthood has fought the proposal.

A labor dispute between a union and Planned Parenthood has spilled into Colorado’s gubernatorial race. 

At the Working People’s Forum on Race, Class, and Justice on June 2, an audience member stood at a microphone and told all four Democratic gubernatorial candidates that he’s seen workers facing “obstacles” in Colorado in organizing a union at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) and at Denver International Airport (DIA). He asked the candidates to tell him what he or she would say to a “boss opposing workers’ fight for a better life by forming a union.”

Democrats at the labor forum spoke in support of labor rights generally, with some siding more clearly with PPRM workers in the dispute, which has stalled the formation of a union at 14 of 18 PPRM clinics in Colorado.

“I will say to Planned Parenthood, and I have told [PPRM Director] Vicki Cowart this privately, and I would say it publicly,” U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D) of Boulder said at the forum.”The workers have voted. Give them their union. Don’t do an end-run around the people who work at Planned Parenthood providing reproductive health services to people, women and some men, every day. They voted for good reasonsfor better security, for better pay and for better benefits. Let’s start the negotiations. Let’s stop the delays.”

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A recent poll shows Polis leading the Democratic pack, though about four in ten voters are undecided.

Colorado’s Lt. Governor Donna Lynne, running to replace Colorado’s term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), echoed Polis.

“My commitment to you is, yes, I’ll say it to DIA, I’ll say it to Planned Parenthood, there have been elections,” Lynne said. “Let the union do the work that the union should do on behalf of the people.”

Democratic candidate Cary Kennedy, who served as Colorado’s treasurer from 2006 to 2010, told the crowd that as governor, she’d “defend the rights of workers and defend the rights of labor to organize in this state.”

“When you look at what’s happening right now, and the question was specific to the issue of Planned Parenthood, we absolutely have to defend the right to vote, to organize,” said Kennedy, whose campaign did not respond to a Rewire.News email seeking further comment. “You can clap for that. And we should never see workers fired because they were simply trying to participate in organizing labor. It is against the law.”

Former Colorado state Sen. Michael Johnston, another Democratic candidate, did not address the Planned Parenthood issue.

“If you are an employer who is trying to bully people for raising their voice or is trying to fire people for raising their voice,” said Johnston, whose campaign did not respond to an email seeking comment. “Or is trying to discriminate against people for raising their voice, you will need to come to the principal’s office at the state Capitol and talk to me.”

None of the four Republican candidates for governor responded to an email from Rewire.News seeking their opinions on the labor dispute.

In November, federal regulators approved a plan by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105 to unionize at 14 of 18 PPRM clinics in Colorado. Planned Parenthood fought the proposal, arguing it would welcome a union but only if it were approved by all of its workers at 24 clinics in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

After workers at the 14 clinics in Colorado voted in December for the union, PPRM lodged a successful appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, whose 2 to 1 vote in April against SEIU, with two Trump appointees in favor, has put the union effort on hold.

Planned Parenthood has stated that it values its “long history of our partnership with unions” and would welcome a unionized workforce, but it appealed SEIU’s vote to federal regulators because only 40 percent of its workers voted for the union.

All four Democrats in the governor’s race are pictured on the “PPRM Bargaining Team” Facebook page. Kennedy, Lynne, and Polis are pictured separately standing with union organizers and holding a “Pro-Choice, Pro-Patient, Pro-Union” sign. Johnston is seen on the site standing with a woman who’s holding a “Union” sign.

PPRM workers recently delivered a petition to PPRM requesting the health organization drop its NLRB appeal and allow the formation of a union at 14 of its 18 clinics in Colorado.

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