Ruth Richardson, CEO of regional Planned Parenthood, resigns from Minnesota House

Union declines to comment ahead of Thursday news conference on contract negotiations

By: - September 6, 2023 7:04 am

State Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, speaks at a news conference ahead of Gov. Tim Walz signing a bill creating a state paid family and medical leave program on May 25, 2023. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Third-term state Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, announced her resignation from the Legislature on Friday evening in a Twitter thread, writing her time in the Legislature has been “the honor of a lifetime,” but that her “season of service is ending effective immediately.”

In a Tuesday interview, Richardson said she needs to give her full attention to her job as CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, which has clinics in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota and is the largest abortion provider in Minnesota. Richardson is confronting both labor strife here in union-friendly Minnesota, and hostile political environments in the remainder of the territory.

“Right now, I’m really focused on the work we’re doing at Planned Parenthood North Central States,” Richardson said. “Post-Dobbs … the health care landscape is shifting dramatically. I mean, there’s whiplash in a number of ways.”

Asked why she chose to announce her resignation at 6 p.m. on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, she said “When you’re talking about stepping back from a role, I don’t know that there’s a day that works better than others.”

Richardson took the helm of the regional Planned Parenthood last October, about three months after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Dobbs ruling undoing federal protections for abortion access. At the time, she told the Star Tribune she could manage the responsibilities of both jobs and the likely conflicts of interest from legislating on abortion and managing an abortion provider.

During the fast-paced 2023 legislative session, Richardson oversaw a major Democratic accomplishment in establishing a paid family and medical leave program for all Minnesota workers. She also spearheaded the creation of the nation’s first state Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls.

Gov. Tim Walz must schedule a special election for her seat representing parts of Mendota Heights and Eagan south of St. Paul.

Richardson took the helm of the regional Planned Parenthood at a time of significant labor unrest at the institution, following a successful union drive of hundreds of workers spread across 27 health centers.

Workers, unionized with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa, allege Richardson has overseen a fierce union-busting campaign reminiscent of corporate juggernauts like Amazon and Starbucks.

Planned Parenthood fired one union leader for sharing confidential information about fellow employees in the bargaining team’s private group chat as well as a recording of managers discussing a dispute with the union.

The union did not contest the termination and apologized for the breach of confidential information as part of a settlement agreement after Planned Parenthood filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private sector unions. As part of that settlement agreement, the union withdrew charges that Planned Parenthood inconsistently enforced its dress code to stop employees from wearing union t-shirts.

Planned Parenthood also disciplined the rest of the bargaining team — giving them each a final written warning — for failing to report the breech of confidentiality and ultimately terminated another union leader in what the union describes as trumped-up claims of misconduct.

The union filed charges of unlawful retaliation, surveillance and termination with the NLRB, which is investigating the allegations.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa, one of the most influential labor unions in the state, held demonstrations inside the state Capitol demanding Richardson reinstate one of the terminated workers and later rescinded its endorsement of her.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa declined to comment on Richardson’s resignation from the Legislature. The union plans to hold a news conference on Thursday to announce updates on contract negotiations, which have stretched nearly into their second year.

Richardson, who has touted her support for organized labor, rejected the allegation of union-busting.

“We have done nothing but show support of our employees as they were seeking to unionize,” Richardson said. “I have always believed that unionization is going to help strengthen our organization and ultimately provide better health care for our patients.”

Before Richardson became CEO, Planned Parenthood North Central States declined to voluntarily recognize its workers’ union, forcing an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Asked about the charges of unfair termination and discipline, Richardson said, “Unions are not shields for misconduct.”

*This story has been updated with more detail about charges against SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa and Planned Parenthood North Central States made with the NLRB.

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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.