AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than a dozen workers at Planned Parenthood clinics across Austin are now without a job. They say they believe it’s direct retaliation for both voicing complaints to the CEO and their ongoing efforts to unionize within the past year.

Planned Parenthood management confirmed it made staff cuts, but it says it’s a business decision it had to make because of COVID-19.

For nearly two years, Ella Nonni has worked for Planned Parenthood. She most recently served as the senior medical assistant at the North Austin location.

She was distraught to learn that she and around 20 others in Austin were let go on Thursday.

“Our suspicion is that it was motivated by our organizing activity,” Nonni said.

For the past year, Nonni says she’s been trying to unionize with her colleagues. She claims management wasn’t listening to their concerns and the problems were heightened during the coronavirus oubreak.

Nonni said there is not enough PPE at the clinics, workers are being forced to do non-essential work for patients in-person and they’re not being offered paid sick leave if they come down with COVID-19 symptoms.

“There’s this big disconnect between the people managing us and the work that is being done on the ground,” Nonni said. “The reality is that a lot of our services, while vital, are not urgent.”

They highlighted their concerns in a letter published online and sent to the CEO on Monday. Less than 72 hours later, around 20 Austin employees were laid-off, Nonni reports.

READ THE LETTER: Tell Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas CEO Ken Lambrecht: Safety, Security, and Respect for Front-line Caregivers Now!

CEO Brian Lambrecht said the pandemic has hurt them financially and they were forced to make staff and pay cuts.

“We know our amazing staff members make everything we do possible. We’re enormously grateful for them and we take their health and safety seriously. Our compassionate healthcare staff are on the front lines, providing quality care throughout this crisis, and we are committed to ensuring they’re supported as they work to provide services to people across Texas.

The reality is that we are in an unprecedented crisis that is impacting people across the health care industry and in every part of the country. It’s an uncertain and unsettling time. Here in Texas, we have the added challenge of a Governor who’s determined to end our ability to care for patients — from attacks on our funding to, most recently, using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to ban safe, legal abortion in our state. While we are doing everything we can to continue to provide the essential, time-sensitive care that our patients rely on, it is impossible to say that this pandemic isn’t impacting our organization. We, like all health care providers, are doing our part to conserve resources, focus on essential care, and doing everything we can to protect the safety of both our patients and our staff. This also means that we have had to make difficult decisions, such as reductions in staff and hours, and reducing the pay for our CEO and senior staff.

We are committed to working with all of our staff members and doing all we can to ensure they continue to feel safe, protected, and secure. They are at the heart of what we do at Planned Parenthood, and we would not exist without them. Every day, Planned Parenthood staff, volunteers, and supporters work to build a world where all people have the information, power, and resources they need to make their own decisions about their bodies, their families, and their futures.”

Ken Lambrecht, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas

Sarah Wheat, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said these Austin workers were not fired because they vocalized their complaints. She said other employees were laid off in Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano and Denton as well.

She countered that there was adequate PPE at the clinics and that all procedures that are being done in-person are time-sensitive, and thus, essential.

Nonni said she realizes she may not get her job back. Even still, she hopes that the workers who do return are treated with more respect.

“For an organization whose motto is ‘care no matter what’ and has a progressive image, they really weren’t taking care of its workers,” Nonni said. “Our aim is just to hold Planned Parenthood accountable for the way we were treated.”

Abortions in Texas

Right now most abortions in Texas have stopped. A federal appeals court just sided with the state again, allowing them to block abortions because of the pandemic. But there is a new exception.

Women may terminate their pregnancies if they would pass the 20-week limit in Texas because of the new ban in place.

Last month Gov. Greg Abbott banned all non-essential medical procedures. The Attorney General banned abortions except those critical to the life or health of the patient.

Abortion providers say this order makes abortions largely inaccessible. They say they’ll weigh every legal option including seeking emergency relief from the U.S. Supreme Court.