A metro area DFL legislator who is also the CEO for the regional Planned Parenthood chapter based in the Twin Cities is continuing to navigate rough waters in her day job.
Ruth Richardson was named the top executive of the Planned Parenthood North Central States chapter in September 2022 — just weeks before she was re-elected to the Minnesota House to represent the southeast metro suburbs of Mendota Heights, Sunfish Lake and part of Eagan. Her recent appointment as CEO of the most powerful abortion rights lobby organization in the upper Midwest drew criticism from some conservatives in Minnesota political circles who suggested a state legislator shouldn’t also lead such an organization because of inevitable conflicts of interest she would face in votes at the Capitol.
But the third-term Democrat has received the most heat in her new job from those who were initially some of her most vital political supporters: labor movement activists.
On July 6, the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) Minnesota State Council announced it was rescinding its political endorsement it awarded Richardson in her campaign for re-election to the House of Representatives in 2022.
The announcement followed several weeks of publicly-aired dirty laundry from some former and current employees of Planned Parenthood North Central States who have alleged that the organization’s executive leadership (i.e. Richardson) has engaged in “union busting” activities that revolved around “extreme” and “severe” forms of discipline toward employees who were elected members of their union’s new bargaining team.
In an emailed statement to Alpha News on Monday, PPNCS leadership said those accusations are unfounded.
“We categorically deny SEIU’s allegations of union-busting, which have included unfounded accusations of intimidation, surveillance, excessive discipline and targeting of bargaining team members,” said Erin Heisler Wagner, director of communications. “Planned Parenthood North Central States leadership remains committed to bargaining in good faith with SEIU and remain committed to adhering to the law. As we have stated previously, no staff have been disciplined or fired by PPNCS for union organizing, however, unions are not designed to be a shield for misconduct.”
Allegations Richardson ‘investigated, targeted’ employees involved in collective bargaining for union
In July 2022 more than 400 Planned Parenthood employees across five states (including Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska) voted to form a union and affiliate with the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa unit. They then elected a bargaining team, which according to some of its members has been on the receiving end of employer backlash for their efforts to negotiate a new contract.
One of those is Grace Larson, a licensed practical nurse who began working for the organization as a “float nurse” in August 2021. Larson says her employment was “unceremoniously terminated” in March of this year, following what she described as “management’s investigation of the bargaining team in mid-January” that led to “severe” discipline measures that she believes ultimately led to her firing.
“Because of PPNCS’s aggressive decision to discipline an entire bargaining team and then fire me, I am not there providing that care. Like I told you previously, we cannot separate abortion rights and workers’ rights,” Larson said during a July 6 press conference. “We are fighting to get respect and dignity for PPNCS workers, just like we tried to do for every single person who walks into our door.”
Nicole Anschutz, a registered nurse who began working for PPNSC in 2022, said that a total of four members of the bargaining team had left the organization as a result of the “stress and fear of living under this extreme form of discipline.”
“Without significant changes in how we are treated, our department will continue to be a revolving door,” Anschutz said during the July 6 press conference where she and SEIU leadership demanded Planned Parenthood reinstate Larson’s employment.
SIEU leadership said Planned Parenthood’s firing of Larson and its investigation into Larson and other members of the bargaining team that led to “extreme” disciplinary action seems unprecedented.
“We have had a hard time finding any precedent for an employer imposing such severe discipline for an entire collective bargaining team during contract negotiations,” said Phillip Cryer, executive vice president for SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa. “We have given PPNCS leadership countless opportunities over the last few months to walk back these extreme actions, to reinstate Grace and to get back to the bargaining process without the daily fear of termination affecting bargaining team union members’ mental health, their job performance and their ability ultimately to remain in this organization they love.
“A CEO who engages in this course of conduct toward elected members of a union and who stands by those decisions and refuses to make any changes to them even as the actions caused half of the union bargaining team to no longer be working for the organization she leads does not deserve the labor movement’s support as an elected official.
“[Richardson] has done some great things as a state legislator. But her actions as Planned Parenthood CEO fly in the face of those accomplishments,” Cryer said.
While requests seeking comment from Richardson through her legislative assistant at the Capitol weren’t returned Monday, the communications director for Planned Parenthood North Central States said in her statement on behalf of the organization that “we are working every day to serve our patients and communities with expert sexual and reproductive health care, and every team member makes our mission possible.”
“The staff at PPNCS continue to provide this work during these challenging times in the reproductive health movement, and we will continue to work through the bargaining process to produce a fair and balanced contract for our unionized employees,” Heisler Wagner said.
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.