Staff members at Planned Parenthood's national Washington, D.C., office say they have unionized and reached an agreement with management to improve workers' rights. The move toward collective bargaining comes as Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights groups have been scrutinized for workplace issues, including a lack of diversity within management.
Union leadership told CBS News exclusively that Planned Parenthood's roughly 70 union-eligible D.C. staffers unanimously voted to join SEIU Local 500, a local branch of the second-largest union in the U.S. Under the agreement, Planned Parenthood management will "address equity in the workplace, codify benefits, and provide members a voice in organizational decision making."
The agreement between Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its D.C. staffers comes after nearly four years of negotiations that began under the organization's former president Cecile Richards, union leaders told CBS News. After announcing their intention to unionize in September 2016, negotiations stalled following President Trump's election when Planned Parenthood found itself playing defense against an unprecedented wave of abortion restrictions.
The organization's D.C. office unionized to "ensure Planned Parenthood's long-term security and build collective power for the workers who make it possible for the organization to successfully carry out its mission," said Aaron Wilder, a member of the bargaining unit leadership team and regional campaign manager at Planned Parenthood.
"We are the doers: the employees who come to the job every day to tirelessly fight for Planned Parenthood patients and reproductive rights," Wilder said in an email to CBS News.
"The PPFA national office fully believes in the rights of staff to organize and unionize, and supports the DC and Miami unions," said Melanie Newman, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson, in an email to CBS News.
The organization's move towards unionization comes after accusations of poor working environments and unfair treatment of Black staffers at some of the country's most prominent reproductive health organizations, including Planned Parenthood. NARAL, an abortion-rights group, was accused last month of failing to include enough people of color in senior-level management positions, including its board. At Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, the group's largest affiliate, allegations of abusive behavior and racial discrimination resulted in the ouster of its chief executive officer.
"The things that have been highlighted at some of our affiliates, well, the national office isn't immune," said a Planned Parenthood employee and member of its union leadership who asked not to be named. "White supremacy rears its ugly head everywhere we go, even in progressive and nonprofit spaces."
The employee said the "union provides that layer of protections for people to be able to speak out and to address these issues."
The chief executives at both Planned Parenthood and NARAL have apologized for a lack of diversity within their senior ranks and promised to make changes to address the issue.
"We have real work ahead of us to ensure staff feel safe and valued, particularly our staff of color who are asked to represent and advocate for the mission, while often quietly shouldering the accountability work inside," said Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood's president, in a tweet last month, addressing those accusations. "They do that work quietly because speaking up often comes at a personal cost. Too many people of color, particularly Black women, face unfair backlash for speaking truth to power."
Planned Parenthood's D.C. staffers are the organization's second federal office to reach a collective bargaining agreement; the group's federal Miami bureau unionized in 2018. A handful of Planned Parenthood's roughly 50 affiliates have also unionized.