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Western PA Planned Parenthood Workers Vote Overwhelmingly To Unionize

Elaine Thompson
Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania has offices in Bridgeville, Greensburg, Johnstown, Moon, Pittsburgh, and Somerset. Staff at all locations were eligible to participate in the vote to unionize the nonprofit's workers.

Non-professional staff at Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania voted overwhelmingly to unionize in a vote-by-mail election that ended Thursday, according to union organizers. But the outcome for the nonprofit’s professional medical staff has yet to be determined due to a ballot whose validity had been disputed and remains unopened, organizers said.

The roughly 30-member non-professional unit, however, voted 21-2 to form a union with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, said Tom McIntyre, a Planned Parenthood prevention specialist who lobbied for the union. McIntyre said some employees never received ballots in the mail, and he noted that the vote has yet to be certified.

“Planned Parenthood is great. We all love what we do,” McIntyre said after National Labor Relations Board officials had tallied all but the unopened ballot. “I think it would be helpful to make sure that staff feel supported in the work that they do, so they can be the best for our patients.”

Through collective bargaining, McIntyre said, his colleagues hope to negotiate for mandatory breaks and to make sure they can take sick days and vacation time. They'd also like more structure around pay and raises, McIntyre said.

The unionization drive gained traction when the coronavirus pandemic forced changes in workplace procedures. Organizers said a union would give them more influence over such decisions.

They petitioned in January to hold a union vote through the National Labor Relations Board. About 80 percent of the health care provider’s 35 workers had submitted “interest cards” expressing their desire to conduct an election, organizers said.

The vote was open to staff who work at the organization’s locations in Bridgeville, Greensburg, Johnstown, Moon, Pittsburgh, and Somerset. The NLRB split the employees into two voting units. The non-professional unit included health care assistants, prevention specialists, community educators, and other staff. The professional unit, meanwhile, covered medical positions such as clinicians, physician assistants, and registered nurses.

The two units voted separately, and the professional staff were given two votes: one asking whether they wanted to join a union at all, and the other whether they wanted to be part of the non-professional unit. 

Before the vote, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania CEO Kim Evert did not take a position on the unionization effort. But in a statement Friday, a spokesperson for the nonprofit said, “We support the right of all workers to unionize. Our priority is creating a great environment for our employees, who provide health care to thousands of patients in western Pennsylvania. … We look forward to working with the union to ensure PPWP continues to be a great place to work.”

PPWP leaders had previously questioned the validity of a ballot cast by a professional unit member because, McIntyre said, they believed the employee could be considered a supervisor and, thus, not eligible to take part in the union.

But in its Friday statement, PPWP said, “We are not contesting any of the ballots or the outcome of the election.”

The outstanding ballot is expected to be decisive because the professional unit’s vote is currently tied 2-2, McIntyre said. He said that the NLRB will need to schedule a time to count the final vote.