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Unionized Planned Parenthood workers in Massachusetts prepare for contract negotiations

 An abortion rights rally in Northampton, Massachusetts, organized by the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund in May 2022
Emily Thurlow
Daily Hampshire Gazette/https://www.gazettenet.com/Northampton-groups-all-over-the-country-to-hold-a-Bans-Off-Our-Body-demonstration-46370101
An abortion rights rally in Northampton, Massachusetts, organized by the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund in May 2022

As more states ban abortion, workers at Planned Parenthood in Massachusetts voted this week to unionize.

Union organizers say Planned Parenthood employees will soon elect a bargaining committee for contract negotiations. They will advocate for better working conditions in preparation for an expected onslaught of out-of-state patients, following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Planned Parenthood delivers reproductive health and gender-affirming care. Employees have been working on the union effort since early 2022, according to organizers.

“It felt like there was a disconnect between the staffers doing the work in the clinic and the leadership. And so we really felt like we wanted to unionize so that we would have a little bit more leverage,” said Cara Callahan, who works at Planned Parenthood in Springfield, one of four Massachusetts clinics that voted to join the 1199SEIU union.

The other clinics are in Boston, Worcester and Marlborough.

Callahan said Planned Parenthood’s leadership has been focused primarily on the issue of federal abortion rights, and not as focused on the pressures facing frontline workers, from delivering care during the pandemic to the attacks on abortion rights.

"We don't know how long we are going to be in this landscape of two Americas," Callahan said. "And because we don't know how long, in order for us to be able to care for folks in the near future and in the longer term future, we need more staff and we need better training. And we need to have more control over what the work looks like.”

Callahan said being part of a union could also give workers more influence in where Planned Parenthood spends its money, as more people donate to the organization following the end of federal abortion rights.

Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts declined an interview but sent a statement saying the organization “has a long history of working alongside labor justice partners, and we respect our employees' decision. After today's vote, we remain committed to making the best decisions possible for all of our employees, patients, and communities, and look forward to a productive collective bargaining process."

Union supporters said this should not be seen as a divisive move, but rather a way to deliver better care and keep needed staff.

“Health care workers are feeling burned out and wanting to have ways to protect their jobs, to stay in their jobs, because we've seen how many workers have left the health care industry in the last few years,” said Marlishia Aho, spokesperson for 1199SEIU.

Callahan said the intense political climate might even be an advantage to negotiations because both sides are motivated to resolve issues quickly.

She said workers will likely ask for higher wages, reasonable staff-to-patient ratios, and limited work hours.

“And the security of having a union, as well, with this landscape is not to be understated,” she said. “Even though Massachusetts has legal abortion now, you know — not to sound fatalistic — that's not a guarantee (in the future).”

Copyright 2022 New England Public Media. To see more, visit New England Public Media.

Karen is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter since for New England Public Radio since 1998. Her pieces have won a number of national awards, including the National Edward R. Murrow Award, Public Radio News Directors, Inc. (PRNDI) Award, and the Erikson Prize for Mental Health Reporting for her body of work on mental illness.

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