Open letter to Planned Parenthood professionals

By Michael Dembrow of Portland, Oregon. Michael is the State Representative for Oregon House District 45. (Editor's note: For background on on this, see this story from the Portland Mercury.)

Dear Planned Parenthood Professionals,

I am writing to offer my support and encouragement on the eve of your election for union representation. I understand that your goals are not only to improve your working conditions and to have a clear voice in PPCW’s decisions, but also to improve the services available to your clients. I applaud you for that. But I also know that this is a difficult decision for many of you and know that you are hearing conflicting things about union representation. Let me share with you my own experience as a union-related professional and as an Oregon legislator.

I've been a union member and leader for many years through my work as a professor at Portland Community College, and I can assure you that you are on the right track to gain a voice on issues important to you at work, including the quality and funding of services provided by Planned Parenthood. When we first organized, back in the early 1970s, we were told by our management that having a union would lead to a chilling of the relationship between staff and management, a loss of needed flexibility and creativity, and a drain on college resources. We did not believe them then, and our experience over the last forty years has shown that we were right.

Over the years that we have had a union at the college (we are affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers), we have developed a relationship between faculty, staff, and management that has been mutually beneficial in many ways. PCC has become one of the preeminent community colleges in the country, and management today would willingly agree that one of the reasons for this has been the positive relations that it has had with the PCC Federation of Faculty and Academic Professions.

You may also be hearing from your management that unionization will put you under the influence of outside interests and make you subject to the “union agenda.” If so, they are simply following instructions from their outside HR consultants when they say that. The fact is that it is our local leadership, democratically elected, that works with the members to make all our decisions. I’m sure that the same will be true for you.

We often do decide voluntarily to join other progressive groups in fighting for better education funding and for social justice issues that affect our students; being part of a state and national union has made that much easier. In your case, this would help you to influence state and federal policy on issues directly related to the mission of Planned Parenthood.

I can tell you from first-hand experience as a legislator that the union you are organizing with, SEIU, has seen real success in protecting and expanding funding for human services at the Capitol. They encourage members to come in and advocate for their clients, giving us a first-hand, frontline view of just why the services they provide are so critical to the state. Your affiliation with SEIU could really advance the cause of access to high-quality reproductive health care in Oregon, and that would be a great thing.

I wish you all the best of luck in your efforts. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns related to this important decision, or about anything else related to health/human services policy.

In Unity,

Michael Dembrow

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    Michael, thank you for bringing your reasoned clarity to this letter. It is disappointing that Planned Parenthood CW is taking the attitude toward this election that it is.

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    "I can tell you from first-hand experience as a legislator that the union you are organizing with, SEIU, has seen real success in protecting and expanding funding for human services at the Capitol."

    Can you give us examples of this? I was under the impression that human services have been and continue to be gutted.

    This of course, has nothing to do w/the of unions per say, or this issue specifically, but isn't it a little bit of a stretch to say that we are expanded funding for human services in any way in Oregon...

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