Guttmacher Institute, the world’s leading reproductive rights think tank, was a tense place to work. Hybrid work schedules. Microsoft Teams status checks.
As the Supreme Court got closer to plunging America into an abortion access crisis, making Guttmacher’s work all the more vital, that tension peaked: In May, the staff went public with their plans to unionize. In July, the union, which represents more than 60 employees, won its right to bargain a contract with the institute in a near-unanimous election. Members didn’t expect the following contract negotiations to be easy or even quick, but they did expect them to be civil, with likeminded people on both sides, due to the generally progressive political bent of the institute.
Instead, Guttmacher Employees United (GEU) members found themselves fighting against a union-busting law firm that donates to politicians advocating for forced-birth policies.
After the union went public in May, Guttmacher retained the notorious pro-management law firm Jackson Lewis P.C. to represent it as it squared off against its employees. Between its own political action committee and individual employee donations, Jackson Lewis has sent over $336,000 to anti-abortion politicians over the last decade, according to federal donation records reviewed by Jezebel. This means that as the Guttmacher Institute spends the millions it has raised for its pro-reproductive healthcare mission, it is also spending significant funds to retain the services of an anti-union law firm that could turn around and donate to the very people seeking to hinder Guttmacher’s mission.
“It’s pretty disturbing to think that Guttmacher’s management is spending so much money on these lawyers, and where will that money ultimately end up? In the pockets of anti-abortion advocates and in politicians who hurt people who need abortions,” one GEU member, who requested anonymity due to fear of reprisal for speaking publicly, told Jezebel.
Jackson Lewis did not reply to multiple requests for comment by phone and email.
Since 2012, Jackson Lewis P.C. PAC has donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to campaigns or PACs supporting Republican candidates—though it also donated more to Democratic candidates. In multiple years, the PAC gave the maximum amount allowed ($15,000) to the National Republican Congressional and National Republican Senatorial committees. Meanwhile, Jackson Lewis employees donated nearly $100,000 directly to Republican candidates over the past decade. They especially loved Mitt Romney, giving nearly $12,000 to his presidential campaign. Romney, who pioneered the state-level healthcare program that Obamacare was modeled on, used to believe in choice, but as Massachusetts governor he vetoed a bill that would have expanded access to emergency contraception. Currently, Romney is a co-sponsor on the national 20-week abortion ban bill in the Senate.
Jackson Lewis employees also gave $10,000 to the Nebraska Republican Party, which has put forth candidates like pro-death penalty and anti-abortion Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Ben Sasse, who re-introduced a bill to “protect” so-called “born-alive” fetuses (the non-medical term for fetuses that are born during the commission of an abortion) in 2021.
WinRed, the Republican answer to Democrats’ ActBlue fundraising platform, was likewise a favorite of Jackson Lewis employees. Lawyers, secretaries, assistants, paralegals, HR managers, and bill coordinators at the firm have all donated through the platform. Their contributions were earmarked for committee fundraising for Donald Trump, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and former Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), among others—all of whom, it may go without saying, are adamant anti-abortion politicians. Jackson Lewis employees also contributed to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), whose willingness to believe an obvious lie from Brett Kavanaugh contributed to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The firm’s PAC—like all political action committees—seeks to curry favor or outcomes through its donations. To that end, donating to both Democrats and Republicans makes sense for a massive firm that regularly interacts with judges of all stripes. And, like all massive corporate law firms, Jackson Lewis lawyers have worked on cases across the political spectrum: One attorney signed onto a Supreme Court amicus brief as one of more than 360 legal professionals who had abortions and were writing in support of abortion providers in a 2019 case. It’s not surprising that a law firm like Jackson Lewis donates to both parties, but that explanation does little to placate the scrappy group of nonprofit workers who wanted some say in how their workplace was governed.
Workers know they’re in for a metaphorically bloody brawl when management hires Jackson Lewis. “When you hire Jackson Lewis…it’s like planting a flag and saying, ‘Unions are not welcome here.’ You’re going to fight hardball against the union, and you’re prepared to do whatever is necessary to defeat workers’ efforts,” John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, told Jezebel. They also know Jackson Lewis’s services don’t come cheap. (When the University of New Mexico hired Jackson Lewis after its staff’s union drive, Jackson Lewis attorneys quoted a price of anywhere from $275 to $540 per billable hour, according to a written agreement. However, the firm often gives discounts to nonprofits, which Guttmacher Institute is.)
On Aug. 30, GEU, an affiliate of the OPEIU Local 153, sent a letter to Guttmacher demanding the organization sever ties with Jackson Lewis. In a letter provided to Jezebel, the union called Jackson Lewis’s involvement “hypocritical and antithetical” to the organization’s mission. “By retaining a law firm that is infamous for its union-busting tactics and conservative, anti-choice financial ties, Guttmacher management is sending a message to staff that they value the repression of our rights as workers over the broader effort to make sexual and reproductive healthcare accessible to all,” the letter reads in part. “Do the right thing: Fire Jackson Lewis now and end Guttmacher’s financial ties to the war on reproductive rights.”
(Jackson Lewis is the outside employment firm for G/O Media, which owns Jezebel. It has not represented G/O Media on union matters.)
Guttmacher Institute said the organization’s progressive mission is not swayed by lawyers. “Lawyers do not determine our values and positions on any issues, including unionization. Our CEO has always been very clear that Guttmacher leadership supports our staff’s desire to organize and that our management looks forward to working with the union, and this position has guided the relationship with Jackson Lewis,” a spokesperson for Guttmacher told Jezebel by email. One Friday, the union announced a public petition against Jackson Lewis.
The reproductive health think tank was founded in 1968 and led by Dr. Alan F. Guttmacher, following two presidents who sought to lower the rate of unwanted pregnancies. Since then, its work has been the pinnacle of social science research and analysis for the “promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
In recent decades, Guttmacher suffered from a classic nonprofit problem: lots of highly compensated white executives and lots of underpaid staffers. In December 2021, workers went public with allegations of “toxic” workplace culture rife with racism at Guttmacher. The institute’s policy team was made up of only white women and hadn’t had a Black or Latinx member in at least a decade, Prism reported. One worker told Prism that the organization was in a “death spiral” and risking its reputation because it wouldn’t evolve. (In June, Guttmacher shared a statement on its racial equity efforts.)
For Guttmacher’s employees, management’s reaction to the union drive was a final straw. Just hours after the union handily won its election, a key union organizer was fired. The union contends another employee was unjustly dismissed for their union efforts as well. (Guttmacher “categorically den[ied] the allegation of retaliation.”) Jackson Lewis will seemingly continue to represent management at Guttmacher heading into contract negotiations. It should also be noted that the firm’s opposition to organized labor is reflected in its political contributions to Republican candidates.
Despite its internal struggles—the Glassdoor reviews are rough—Guttmacher retains its public perception as the preeminent reproductive health research institution, so much so that in February, philanthropist Mackenzie Scott gave the organization $15 million to continue its work. But while its employees continue to pump out report after report in support of sexual and reproductive equality around the world, the think tank’s top brass got into bed with Jackson Lewis, a law firm whose political giving shows ideological contempt for Guttmacher’s work.