If you deny your own employees the right to collective bargaining, are you a real Democrat?

If you deny your own employees the right to collective bargaining, are you a real Democrat?
© Greg Nash

As a pro-life Democrat, I am used to hearing a constant criticism, as annoying as it is untrue,“You’re not a real Democrat.”

Although no one said this to me when I began working in politics, it passes for the majority view among party elites today. While it’s true that I wholeheartedly believe that the Democratic Party should welcome and affirm people who are reluctant to celebrate abortion, I consistently list the issues that have historically united Democrats: taxes, environmental protection, immigration, health care, and labor.


The party loyalty of Planned Parenthood — our nation’s largest abortion-provider — has never been questioned, even in the face of its recent strident resistance of efforts by its clinic employees to unionize.


Yes, you did read the preceding sentence correctly: Planned Parenthood is opposing efforts by its employees to negotiate for better wages and working conditions. 

It makes the question “Who is a real Democrat?” urgent — and debatable.

Abortion-rights advocates constantly argue that disagreement on one issue disqualifies one from being a member of the party. The right to unionize and fight for a living wage, I would say, is one of the founding Democratic principles. My first boss on Capitol Hill was Rep. Bill Ford (D-Mich.), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. I learned from him the foundational history and importance of workers’ rights and protections.

In recent months, numerous news outlets, including The Intercept, Rewire.news, and Rolling Stone, have reported on the extraordinary efforts the abortion behemoth has undertaken to prevent employees of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains from exercising their right to organize and bargain collectively.

It was a different era, but I doubt that Ford would sit back and watch any organization take advantage of working men and women. He would, no doubt, call out the abortion corporation for cozying up with an anti-labor administration, regardless of his position on abortion; he was pro-choice.

Planned Parenthood’s unequivocal rejection of workers’ rights is a stunning rejection of everything that the Democratic Party has stood for in the area of labor rights. Not only has their management colluded to dissuade unionization in spite of legitimate grievances, but the national abortion organization has also taken the surprising step of appealing to President Donald Trump’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to challenge the outcome of a vote to organize with SEIU Local 105.

Like most other real Democrats, I emphatically support the rights of these workers to form a union to seek better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Yet, in the wake of this scandal, Democratic Party leaders will continue to assert falsely that I’m not a true Democrat, while no party elites have questioned Planned Parenthood’s commitment to progressive principles even in light of Planned Parenthood’s blatant disregard of workers’ rights. 

When I convened a gathering of pro-life Democrats in Denver last month, pro-choice forces were quick to protest. A large sign declaring “Hey DFLA attendees: Abortion access is a progressive value” was parked in front of the hotel where we met.

Who is lecturing Planned Parenthood about its abdication of progressive values as it sides with Trump against its own workers?

While 21 million other pro-life Democrats and I have serious concerns about Planned Parenthood and what goes on in its 600 clinics nationwide, we heartily affirm the rights of its workers and stand in solidarity with them in their struggle against a hostile employer whose outgoing CEO was paid more than a half-million dollars annually.

The controversy over Planned Parenthood’s anti-labor stance and actions is something everyone in the Democratic Party should think about. Likewise, Democrats in Washington and across the country should think about the inconsistent and unfair ways Planned Parenthood has sought to push pro-life Democrats out of the party. Are we a party that turns a blind eye toward the vulnerable and those who need assistance if someone gives enough money? 

Recently, Democratic National Committee Party Chair Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE said in a meeting with other Democratic leaders that it was ok for pro-life Democrats to be in the party, but that they can’t vote pro-life. Is he applying the same principles in Planned Parenthood’s case?

You can say you’re pro-labor, but you do not have to follow through and provide your employees with the historical and significant Democratic Party right to collective bargaining?

Recent history shows that the party’s ever-more-extreme positions on abortion make it impossible for Democrats to control the levers of power in this country. Republicans control 66 of the 99 state legislatures. The Democrats last won back control of the House of Representatives in 2006, a feat that would have been impossible without strong support from pro-life Democrats. As the party looks to regain the House majority in 2018, the task is much more difficult because of the party’s extreme abortion position.

Pro-life Democrats believe that supporting moms, babies, adoptive families, and a social safety net is a Democratic Party value preferable to terminating a million pregnancies a year in this country. And we stand with Democrats across the spectrum who, in spite of differences, want to be the party that defends the vulnerable. 

But as big abortion has replaced traditional groups such as labor as the preeminent concern of party elites, even as Planned Parenthood seeks relief from Trump’s NLRB in opposition to its workers, we welcome a robust debate over the question, “Who’s a real Democrat?"

Kristen Day is the executive director of Democrats For Life of America.