Planned Parenthood workers in Iowa and four other states vote to unionize

Reproductive rights advocates demonstrate in Des Moines’ Cowles Commons. Wednesday, May 4, 2022. — Britt Fowler/Little Village

Healthcare workers at Planned Parenthood in Iowa and four other states voted overwhelmingly to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced last week. Ninety percent of the 264 workers who cast ballots during the three-week-long election period voted in favor of the union.

The unionization drive began last summer, when workers connected with the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa.

“There were a few groups who were working on unionizing, unbeknownst to each other, and the employees finally figured out that there’s more people who want to unionize,” Anna Clark, a senior training nurse for eight of the nine PPH clinics in Iowa, told Little Village in June. “We approached SEIU because they are the union reps for healthcare workers and a lot of Planned Parenthood employees. They cover a lot of different affiliates of Planned Parenthood, including some of our national offices.”

There are approximately 435 frontline workers — including nurses, pharmacists, administrative assistants and other clinic staff — at the 28 clinics in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota who would be covered by a collective bargaining agreement. During an online news conference on Thursday following the announcement of the election results, Ashley Schmidt who works Planned Parenthood clinics in western Iowa and Nebraska, spoke to the importance of the vote.

“As we move forward into what will be a very challenging time, having a union will make sure all of our voices are heard,” she said. “We will start pushing right away to get our first contract.”

In that contract, the newly unionized workers will be looking for wage increases to bring pay at the clinics in line with other healthcare facilities in their areas, and commitments from PPNCS to hire more staff.

Planned Parenthood, 3425 1st Ave SE Suite 100, Cedar Rapids — Malcolm MacDougall/Little Village

As abortion bans have gone into effect after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade — South Dakota, Wisconsin, Missouri have criminalized almost all abortions, and North Dakota is expected to do so soon — clinics in Iowa and Minnesota have been under increasing stress as patients from those states seek abortion care. And in Iowa, the 24-hour mandatory waiting period that went into effect after the Iowa Supreme Court rejected precedent and declared in June that the state constitution does not protect abortion as a fundamental right, has added to the stress clinics are facing.

“It’s really overwhelming,” Clark said during Thursday’s new conference. “We’re basically seeing each patient twice. So it’s limiting some of our capacity.”

Burnout is a real problem at understaffed clinics, said Clark, who has worked at Planned Parenthood since 2012.

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