A Planned Parenthood Clinic in downtown Milwaukee. (Isiah Holmes | Wisconsin Examiner)
Employees at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) announced Wednesday they were forming a union, and management of the nonprofit health care and reproductive rights provider indicated the organization will not oppose the drive.
More than 100 Planned Parenthood nurse practitioners, registered nurses and other health care workers would be covered under the umbrella of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (WFNHP) if the union is certified. The union represents health care workers at the Milwaukee Veterans Administration hospital, St. Francis Hospital in Milwaukee and other facilities around the state.
“Workers want to have a voice within the organization and have a seat at the table where decisions are being made about the work that we do,” Andrea Sturgeon, a nurse practitioner who has worked at Planned Parenthood for five and a half years, told the Wisconsin Examiner on Wednesday.
“Our work day today is providing direct care to our patients, who need us very much,” she said. “Most of us that work here care very deeply about our patients and care very deeply about the mission of Planned Parenthood.”
In the union recognition petition they presented to Planned Parenthood in late December, employees emphasized that they sought union representation “to support the long-term viability of PPWI and its mission.”
Planned Parenthood declined to voluntarily recognize the union immediately and has instead opted to hold a formal election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). But in a statement Wednesday the organization said it would not oppose employees choosing to unionize.
“Planned Parenthood of WI is committed to providing compassionate, non-judgmental care and education,” said Analiese Eicher, PPWI’s communications director. “We work tirelessly to protect and advance the rights of the communities we serve to have access to the full scope of sexual and reproductive health, and to have the agency to make their own decisions. This value is no different when it comes to employees and their right to organize a union in their workplace.”
While PPWI’s profile as an abortion provider has been highlighted in the legal battle over abortion rights in Wisconsin, the organization has a much broader portfolio.
“We provide birth control,” said Sturgeon. “We do STI [sexually transmitted infection] testing and treatment. We help with a range of gynecological conditions, including abnormal uterine bleeding. We help manage people with PCOS [polycystic ovarian syndrome], endometriosis and fibroids. We do a lot of women’s health care and a lot of reproductive health care.”
Concerns that helped prompt the union drive include wages, scheduling procedures, staffing policies and paid time off policies, according to employees.
“We have quite a few clinics that are short-staffed and have been for quite some time, and we have a lot of turnover,” Sturgeon said. “We think that equitable wages could help to retain folks.”
In their petition to unionize, employees state they are organizing to bargain “a legally binding contract that fosters an environment of respect where our staff have an equal voice in decision making.”
In addition, the petition states that valuing employees for their skills on the job and raising starting wages would improve staff recruitment and retention. The employees are also seeking “more transparency and participation across the organization and accountability to decisions that are made together.”
“We felt like we were not being asked for input, even though we were the ones that were providing the direct care,” Sturgeon said. “And then when we would give our opinions, we just felt like they weren’t being heard.”
In a meeting that employees and the union held with Planned Parenthood executives, “They pledged not to union-bust, they pledged to be collaborative,” Jamie Lucas, executive director of the union, said Wednesday. “We’re hoping that continues on through and that they respect the choice of their workers to form a union.”
Lucas said the union would cover “well more than 100” employees of the organization.
An NLRB hearing is to be held next week to set a date for the union certification election and determine which employees would be covered by the union and therefore would qualify to vote in the election, Lucas said.
State and regional Planned Parenthood organizations are largely independent of each other, and where labor relations are concerned they have had mixed experiences.
Employees at the four-state Planned Parenthood agency that encompasses Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota voted in 2022 to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in what has turned out to be a fractious relationship, although negotiations on a first contract are continuing.
Elsewhere there has been less conflict, however. Lucas said that employees of the the Planned Parenthood organization in Vermont are members of the American Federation of Teachers health care division — the same division that includes the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
“My understanding talking to the workers there is that it’s been pretty collaborative,” Lucas said of the Vermont relationship. “We pledge to be in service to the larger mission [of PPWI] … making sure people are taken care of.”
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