Planned Parenthood workers in Minnesota, nearby states plan to unionize  

A woman holds a Planned Parenthood sign
Planned Parenthood supporters at an abortion rally in May.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Hundreds of health care workers at Planned Parenthood in the north central states, including Minnesota, have formally filed for union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

The group includes more than 400 frontline workers at 28 locations in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. They provide reproductive care — including abortion services, birth control, family planning — as well as cancer screenings, sexual and reproductive health education and community organizing. Organizers say they have filed their union election with SEIU Healthcare of Minnesota and Iowa.

Workers said in a press conference Thursday that issues around decision making, staffing levels and pay all factored into their decision to pursue unionization.

“Frequently, decisions are being made by upper leadership and people who aren't working in the clinics anymore,” said April Clark, a senior training and development specialist registered nurse, who works at clinics in central and eastern Iowa. “Many of those decisions are good decisions for our patients and their staff. But some of them are just really out of touch with how clinic flow is and how we actually need to see our patients in a timely manner.”

Clark also said there are disparities in pay between locations. Recruiting and retaining staff has been difficult considering the current healthcare worker shortage, especially since the organization pays less than other healthcare providers, Clark said.

“We've had to shut down clinics because one person called in and we didn't have anyone to cover it,” she said. “Or we've had to change how many days a week we offer certain services, because we don't have enough staff to cover all of the clinics for each day. So, it's been a pretty stressful impact on our frontline workers.”

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The announcement comes as the Supreme Court is considering a case that could overturn the constitutional right to seek an abortion. If that happens, it would be left up to the states to decide abortion laws. For many, abortion would become illegal or even more difficult to access.

In Minnesota, where abortion access is enshrined in the state constitution, clinics are expecting to see an influx of out-of-state patients if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The group says that while unionization efforts began last year, the leaked draft Supreme Court decision earlier this month made this action even more pressing.

“We know we may lose this protection,” said Sadie Brewer, a registered nurse at the Vandalia Street clinic in St. Paul. “We need to make sure that our community is still protected and we can still continue to provide this care to our patients.”

Brewer says that the best thing Planned Parenthood can do to prepare for an influx of patients if Roe is overturned is to invest in the staff that they currently have.

“Honestly, this is more about our patients than it is about us,” Clark said. “We want to be able to give them top-notch health care. And we need support in order to be able to do that. So, I hope that Planned Parenthood North Central States would stand with us in trying to achieve that mission.”

The group has requested that Planned Parenthood voluntarily recognize their union. If agreed to, it would cover all non-managerial staff, including health clinic workers and community organizers.

“Planned Parenthood North Central States has always prioritized autonomy and choice in people’s personal lives,” said Molly Gage, Vice President of Human Resources at Planned Parenthood North Central States in a statement. “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. We look forward to continuing the conversation with staff about how we can best serve patients throughout this pivotal moment for abortion access.“