Planned Parenthood locations in the Midwest, including the Twin Cities, are allegedly targeting union employees with harassment, surveillance and even firing, according to an unfair labor practices complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Planned Parenthood North Central States, one of the few abortion care providers in the state, denies any wrongdoing.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) officials alleged in last week's NLRB filing Planned Parenthood unfairly disciplined, including firing, union members and also subjected them to surveillance over a period of six months.

"Every single member of the elected bargaining team selected by their co-workers to represent them in first contract negotiations has received a severe and highly unusual form of discipline," said Philip Cryan, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa.

The 12 bargaining-committee members were put "under investigation," Cryan said, and given notice they had allegedly breached a confidentiality clause, the nature of which Planned Parenthood did not disclose to them. The members were then told Planned Parenthood would fire them if they violated any other rules or policies stated in the employee handbook or code of ethics, said employees and Cryan, who also serves as chief negotiator for the 403 unionized employees.

The workers, who voted to unionize in July, began meeting with managers to reach an initial labor contract starting around October. But negotiations have been contentious, the union said.

The formal NLRB complaint came Thursday, two days after the organization fired licensed nurse practitioner Grace Larson. The nurse worked at Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Paul and Minneapolis for two years and said she never had trouble at work until she joined the union and its bargaining committee.

Planned Parenthood denied Larson's firing was union-related.

"The allegations regarding Grace Larson's termination are simply not true. Planned Parenthood North Central States has not, and will not, fire or discipline staff because of their union involvement. Nor will we comment publicly on individual personnel matters," said Molly Gage, Planned Parenthood's human resources vice president, in an email.

Larson said Monday that managers said her firing was for telling a person who worked at an unrelated organization about an incident that involved one co-worker slapping another at a union event.

Larson said she shared the information in a private email during non-work hours, so the reprimand caught her off guard. Two days after she sent the email, she said, Planned Parenthood notified her she was "under investigation" for alleged "retaliation" and fired her shortly thereafter.

Larson is now working with a recruiting firm to secure another nursing position. She said she is speaking publicly about her experience to help other workers stand up for their rights.

Ashley Schmidt, a training and development specialist for Planned Parenthood in Nebraska and Iowa, is on the union bargaining committee and has been coming to St. Paul for negotiations since the fall.

"I definitely felt targeted ever since I started doing the [press events] for the union," Schmidt said. "My experience before and after joining the union are completely different."

A few months ago, she had a difficult exchange with a co-worker about how they were treating a patient. The co-worker complained to management, she said.

Schmidt noted that days later, a manager accidentally copied her on an email. The email informed her that her boss' supervisor insisted on her termination before any questions arose or an investigation took place. Schmidt said the union insisted on an investigation, which found she did nothing wrong.

She kept her job, but "everyone is walking on eggshells," she said.

Mark Nelson, a labor and employment attorney at Spencer Fane who is not involved in the case, said some of the allegations are "interesting and unusual" but the timing of the dispute is not unusual, he said.

Tensions run high during bargaining.

People can be "passive aggressive and be less respectful than is proper," he said. "Everyone is under pressure to dot every 'i' and cross every 't' when it comes to negotiating a first employment contract, because the implications of that contract last for years" and are hard to undo.

Nelson said new unions often get frustrated that it takes months to a secure labor agreement. Labor leaders only have 12 months after the initial union vote to secure an agreement. After that time, union members may decide to oust leaders.

"It's also a very difficult time from the management side" since firms are under scrutiny on a federal level. Issues that begin with an NLRB complaint can wind up in federal court.

"So it's beginning of what could be a long struggle," Nelson said.