Planned Parenthood workers in five states announce intent to unionize

By: - May 26, 2022 12:24 pm

Planned Parenthood is getting ready for a post-Roe world. Photo by Dylan Miettinen/Minnesota Reformer.

Frontline health care workers at Planned Parenthood North Central States announced their intent to unionize on Thursday, saying they want higher wages, more staff and a greater voice in how the organization is run.

“I spend my days listening to my patients and caring for them. I need to know my employer will do the same for me. That is why we must form our union and make this change together,” said Sadie Brewer, a registered nurse at a St. Paul clinic, during a news conference.

Workers say a majority of them have signed cards in support of forming a union — a group that could include more than 400 workers at 28 clinics in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Around 100 jobs would be included in the union, including administrative staff, organizers, nurses and other clinic staff.

The union drive comes as Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States, braces for a conservative U.S. Supreme Court to allow states to ban abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade.

If Roe is overturned, Minnesota would become a haven for legal abortion access as the state’s constitution protects the right to abortion. North Dakota and South Dakota have so-called trigger laws, meaning they would automatically make abortion illegal except in rare circumstances.

The union effort also comes as the organization is undergoing major leadership changes, with the impending departure of CEO Sarah Stoesz, who led the organization for 20 years and oversaw its expansion into three new states.

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood North Central States said the organization’s leaders have not yet decided if they will voluntarily recognize the union or force workers to hold an election.

The spokeswoman provided a statement from Molly Gage, vice president of human resources, saying the organization has always “prioritized autonomy and choice.”

“We respect the same exercise of autonomy in our employees’ professional lives. We support our employees, and it’s up to them to decide if and how they want to be represented by a union,” Gage said. “We look forward to continuing the conversation with staff about how we can best serve patients throughout this pivotal moment for abortion access.”

The unionization drive at Planned Parenthood is the latest example of the labor movement’s resurgence in recent years. SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa, which organized the Planned Parenthood workers, says it has already unionized 1,300 workers across 13 groups over the past year.

Planned Parenthood workers say a union will make the organization stronger as it prepares to provide health care in a post-Roe country.

“Unionizing is a way to make sure that PPNCS is taking care of our staff so we can make sure that our people have fair and just wages, safe and adequate staffing ratios and equal access to benefits,” said April Clark, a senior training nurse for eight Planned Parenthood clinics around Des Moines and Eastern Iowa.

Clark said wages at Planned Parenthood clinics lag those at other heath care facilities, while there are also large pay disparities between clinics.

“With the current health care shortage that the pandemic has only worsened, recruiting staff and hanging onto staff is really difficult when we pay so much lower than any other health care provider in our region,” Clark said.

She said they’ve had to shut down a clinic when they couldn’t find anyone to cover a shift. Elsewhere, they’ve had to curtail how many days a week they offer certain services for lack of staff.

In addition to low wages and high turnover, workers say they feel ignored by managers and believe a union will give them greater decision-making power in the organization.

“The executive team is constantly making decisions that affect us with little to no input from those doing the actual work,” Brewer said. “We all chose to work for Planned Parenthood because we care for the mission and the community we serve. And the company has taken us for granted for far too long.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.