More than 400 Planned Parenthood workers in Iowa and other states unionize

By: - July 21, 2022 4:53 pm

Frontline health care workers at Planned Parenthood North Central States have voted overwhelmingly to unionize. (Photo by Dylan Miettinen/Minnesota Reformer)

Frontline health care workers at Planned Parenthood in Iowa and surrounding states have voted overwhelmingly to unionize, they announced Thursday, with 90% of ballots cast in favor of a union.

“This victory is a huge turning point for us and reproductive health care workers everywhere. Because it’s us who actually makes these clinics run,” said Sage Shemroske, a health care worker in Minneapolis.

The newly unionized group covers approximately 435 workers for Planned Parenthood North Central States, including nurses, pharmacists, administrative assistants and other clinic staff across five states — Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The National Labor Relations Board tallied the votes on Thursday after a three-week voting period, with 238 workers voting in favor and 26 against.

The unionization effort comes as Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country, grapples with states across the country banning abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month.

That’s led to an influx of patients to states that still allow the procedure, including Minnesota and Nebraska. While Iowa still allows abortion, the governor hopes to revive the state’s six-week abortion ban that was deemed unconstitutional before Roe was overturned. Iowa has also instituted a new restriction requiring patients to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion.

“It’s really overwhelming,” said April Clark, a senior training nurse for eight Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa. “We’re basically seeing each patient twice. So it’s limiting some of our capacity.”

Minnesota had a similar restriction until this month, when a Ramsey County judge struck down that law along with a series of other abortion regulations.

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.

Unionization activity has surged in recent months as workers, battered by the pandemic and soaring inflation, seek higher wages and a greater voice in their workplaces. The National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private sector unions, reported petitions for union elections are up 56% from last year.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa, which organized the Planned Parenthood workers, has been particularly active, having already unionized 1,700 workers across 14 groups over the past year alone.

Labor organizers in the nonprofit sector have been especially aggressive in recent years, with local workers unionizing at Beacon Housing Collaborative, Jewish Community Action and an array of other groups. DFL campaigns are now frequently unionized.

Workers at Planned Parenthood North Central States say they want the organization to hire more staff and raise wages to be competitive with nearby health care facilities.

Clark, the Iowa trainer, says the clinics are chronically understaffed, and new employees often leave for better paying jobs at nearby hospitals.

“It just really does lead to burnout,” she said.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Minnesota Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently 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.