Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin health care workers unionize

A Planned Parenthood health center is shown in Waukegan, Ill., June 28, 2022.

Hundreds of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin workers from clinics across the state are joining forces to form a chapter of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

Jamie Lucas, the federation’s executive director, told the American Independent that between the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. Supreme Court decision that reversed Roe v. Wade in June 2022, workers at 23 of Wisconsin’s Planned Parenthood clinics realized they wanted to “make their work lives better and more sustainable so that the organization can be stronger and more viable.”

Lucas says the chapter will include Planned Parenthood nurses, clinicians, patient navigators, and clinic coordinators.

“They’re organizing their own chapter within our local so that they’ll have their own democratically elected leadership who will bargain the contract, enforce that contract, advocate for their collective needs within Planned Parenthood,” Lucas said. “And then they’d have representation to our organization on the state level as well.”

Workers filed for their election with the National Labor Relations Board on Dec. 28, and ballots will go out to employees on Jan. 22 and must be returned to the board by Feb. 7. The election results will be certified by Feb. 8. If the election is successful, the unionized workers and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s management will enter contract bargaining negotiations.

Lucas said Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin management has pledged its cooperation and is allowing all of the workers to vote on unionizing. 

In an email sent to the Wisconsin Independent, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin communications director Analiese Eicher said: “Planned Parenthood of WI is committed to providing compassionate, non-judgmental care and education. We work tirelessly to protect and advance the rights of the communities we serve … This value is no different when it comes to employees and their right to organize a union in their workplace. PPWI intends to honor the results of the NLRB conducted election and work in good faith with the union should it be certified.”

The Wisconsin federation is a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers health care division and represents over 130,000 nurses and health care professionals in a variety of industries.

Lucas said the workers will be bargaining for better wages, better working conditions, paid time off, vacation and sick time, and more. “I think there is strength in formalizing that relationship amongst the workers who believe in the work of Planned Parenthood,” Lucas said. He added that when abortion laws were constantly changing, workers were confused, and had there been union representation, the restrictions and exceptions around the abortion laws would have been better communicated, and workers would have had more of a unified voice.

Wisconsin is not the only state in which Planned Parenthood workers have voted on unionizing.

According to the California nonprofit news site CalMatters, Planned Parenthood workers in seven states where abortion care is legal had chosen to unionize as of September. Workers point to added workload due to the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the influx of patients traveling to their clinics from out of state. In California, the Guttmacher Institute reported abortions increased by over 15% between 2020 and the middle of 2023. In Illinois, that number is over 18%.

Lucas said that workers at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin understand the role the organization plays both locally and nationally.

“In the health care ecosystem, reproductive justice, access to abortion, gender-affirming care, these are things that need to be there, and they need to be administered with a strong employee voice. And so that’s really central to why they’re organizing,” he said.