Iowa Planned Parenthood workers to picket in Des Moines, claiming unfair labor practices

Planned Parenthood workers in Des Moines will picket this week as part of a multi-state union demonstration over labor concerns as they attempt to negotiate a contract with their employer.

Unionized Planned Parenthood North Central States from Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska will picket outside of clinics Tuesday morning to call for a contract that meets workers' demands, including increased wages and lower health insurance premiums. In addition, union officials say they are drawing attention to intimidation and unfair labor practices faced by the bargaining team from the nonprofit health care provider.

A demonstration will take place in Des Moines Tuesday outside of the Susan Knapp Health Center from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., before patients arrive for appointments. The demonstration is not a strike and will not affect patient care Tuesday, organizers said.

Here's everything you need to know about Tuesday's picket:

Why has the union not reached an agreement with Planned Parenthood?

In July 2022, more than 400 frontline health care workers at Planned Parenthood North Central States voted to form a union with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa. The unionized group covers five states, including Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Though the union began bargaining with Planned Parenthood in October 2022, the two sides can't agree on a contract. They have met 32 times in the past 13 months, and have reached tentative agreements in some areas, including over certain benefits, work hours and employee schedules, Planned Parenthood officials said.

"As we work to reach agreement on remaining items, Planned Parenthood North Central States is committed to creating a robust and competitive benefits package that will attract and retain staff, within a structure that is equitable and sustainable," Molly Gage, vice president of human resources at Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a statement.

The union has chosen to picket because Planned Parenthood has failed to adequately meet their demands for increased wages for all staff, said Ashley Schmidt, a training and development specialist for Planned Parenthood and a member of the union's bargaining team.

Many clinics are short staffed, which has created high turnover rates and forced current employees to work long hours with few breaks, she said.

In addition, their pay has not kept up with rising costs, the union argues. Schmidt said Planned Parenthood workers' health insurance costs will increase 12% next year year, but the nonprofit has only offered a 1% raise as part of negotiations.

“They are exploiting our passion for this work, and we cannot pay bills with a mission statement,” Schmidt said.

Planned Parenthood officials dispute the union's claim, saying recent proposed wage increases have included raises of 3% to 5%.

Still, Planned Parenthood officials say they are optimistic they would reach an initial contract in the near future.

Why are union workers demonstrating over "unfair labor practices?"

Union officials say demonstrations are also taking place Tuesday to raise public awareness of how Planned Parenthood North Central States is intimidating the 14 members of the union's bargaining team.

Union officials say Planned Parenthood leadership had illegally surveilled the bargaining team by obtaining a copy of a private Signal chat among the members last March. As a result, one member — Grace Larson, a licensed practical nurse — was fired, they say.

All other members received a final written warning on their employee records, meaning they could be fired for any infraction, Schmidt said. Those employees have not been given a reason why they were disciplined.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa alleges bargaining team members faced disciplinary actions as part of Planned Parenthood's union-busting efforts. The organization has filed charges against Planned Parenthood with the National Labor Relations Board.

Planned Parenthood officials have pushed back on those allegations, pointing out that a formal resolution to one of the unions complaints made it clear that the basis for the discipline of all bargaining team members was misconduct. However, the charges regarding Larson's abrupt termination are still pending with the board.

"The union, as a participant, agreed to publicly apologize in June of this year for their failure to take action to prevent this misconduct," Gage said. "We continue to remain committed to the formal complaint process with the NLRB as they investigate the unfair labor practice complaint related to Grace Larson’s termination."

Gage said Planned Parenthood is committed to working in good faith with union members throughout the negotiation process.

"PPNCS is not, has not, and will not participate in any union busting activities," Gage said in a statement. "No staff have been disciplined or fired by PPNCS for union organizing, however, unions are not designed to be a shield for misconduct. We remain committed to bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and balanced contract for our unionized employees."

Could unionized workers go on strike?

Union members are reluctant to strike for fear of harming patient care, Schmidt said. However, depending on how Wednesday's bargaining session goes, that could be a possibility, she said.

"While we do have the votes to go to a formal strike, the realization is that we’re Planned Parenthood. Without us, people will go without life-saving health care,” Schmidt said.

Where will the pickets happen?

Demonstrations will be taking place at just a few major clinics across Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. All demonstrations will happen before the clinics open, in order to avoid disruptions to patient care, union members say.

The Susan Knapp Health Center will be the only Planned Parenthood clinic in Iowa participating in the demonstration Tuesday.

Other pickets will take place Tuesday morning at clinics in Omaha, Nebraska and in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Michaela Ramm covers health care for the Des Moines Register. She can be reached at mramm@registermedia.com, at (319) 339-7354 or on Twitter at @Michaela_Ramm

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Planned Parenthood union workers to picket in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota