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November 01, 2020

Veterinary hospital staff members unionize

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Around 75 employees at Columbia River Veterinary Specialists in Vancouver, Washington, say they’ve made history by signing a contract and becoming the first private U.S. veterinary hospital to unionize.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union announced the veterinary hospital voted 53-1 in August to approve a labor agreement that will last until 2023.

Employees picketing
Employees at the Columbia River Veterinary Specialists in Vancouver, Washington, picket in January. (Courtesy of Kat Bennet)

Liz Hughston, president of the National Veterinary Professionals Union and a registered veterinary technician, said: “This is the first private sector contract in the veterinary industry, and it will not be the last. The staff demonstrated amazing solidarity, working over two years to get to this point with the owners of the practice.”

The NVPU partners with ILWU for help with resources and outreach. The union covers all nonmanagement, nonveterinarian members of the staff such as front desk personnel, kennel workers, veterinary assistants, and veterinary technicians.

CRVS is owned by PetVet Care Centers, a Connecticut-based network of more than 260 veterinary hospitals.

Kat Bennett, a registered veterinary technician and one of the primary union organizers at CRVS, said she feels a mixture of emotions related to the ratification of the first union contract.

“Pride in our achievement, relief that the process is over, disappointment that we were unable to get more in this first contract, lucky that PetVet didn’t launch a divisive anti-union campaign, and gratitude toward everyone that helped make this happen,” she said.

Bennett added that the biggest weight on her mind throughout the process was paving the way for others.

Hughston agrees and hopes the ratification will help other hospitals push contracts forward.

“We hope that this trail that has been blazed by CRVS and PetVet will extend to other bargaining units and other corporations who are currently bargaining their own contracts,” Hughston said. “I also hope that this will be the incentive for other practices to fight for fairness and positive change in their workplaces.”

The new contract includes the following terms:

  • A new base rate of pay for all positions as well as uniform costs and automatic raises. Cost-of-living increases will be 3% in 2021 and 2.5% in 2022 and 2023.
  • Employees can now receive a payout when they resign for the paid time off they have accrued.
  • Workplace rights such as seniority-based layoff and recall procedures in addition to a “just cause” standard replacing “at will” termination.
  • Improved hospital communications, such as required all-staff meetings.

“This is a historic agreement that will set a new standard for wages and conditions in the veterinary industry,” said Bobby Olvera, vice president of ILWU International, in a press release. “I am so proud of the workers at CRVS for their grit, determination and courage. I would also like to thank the staff of the (ILWU) Organizing Department for their work.”

Staff members at VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, BluePearl North Seattle, and VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas, Oregon, have all successfully voted to unionize in the past few years, but contract negotiations are ongoing or have stalled.

Staff members at VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, owned by Mars Petcare, which bought about 800 VCA practices in September 2017, have gone on strike multiple times since voting to unionize in 2018.