Veterinary hospital union, management ratify two-year contract

One of the few unions in veterinary medicine successfully ratified a contract with its employer after two years of negotiations.

All Creatures Animal Hospital (ACAH) in Bremerton, Washington, and parent company Cara Veterinary Corp., in September reached an agreement with unionized hospital staff that includes base and yearly pay increases for all nonveterinarian employees, a transparent wage system, and increased paid time off accruals.

Two people shake hands over a business contract agreement

As part of the two-year deal between the hospital and the union, ACHA Alliance, a workplace safety committee will be formed, air quality and temperature standards set, and a policy on abusive clients adopted. Nonveterinarian hospital employees are also entitled to bereavement time for a pet’s death and additional pets eligible for employee discounts on veterinary care.

The labor contract covers approximately 20 All Creatures Animal Hospital employees, from veterinary technicians to front office staff. Hospital veterinarians are not part of the agreement.

In a press release, the ACHA Alliance praised its collective bargaining partners with the National Veterinary Professionals Union (NVPU) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 5 for their assistance in reaching the agreement.

“This historic achievement marks a significant milestone in the journey of our union and highlights our unwavering commitment to protecting and advancing the rights and welfare of our members,” the statement reads.

Hospital employees began the bargaining process in July 2021 with several goals for their first contract, including improvements in paid time off, pay equity, and workplace health and safety.

The new contract includes a just cause standard—meaning a person is fired for misconduct or another sufficient reason—and progressive discipline standards. It also outlines seniority and skills-based layoff and recall procedures, a grievance procedure to ensure adherence to contractual obligations, and union education for new hires.

The ACHA Alliance commended the willingness of Cara Veterinary to negotiate a contract with employees at the animal hospital. Created in 2018, Cara Veterinary Corp. currently owns 11 veterinary hospitals in Washington state. Dr. Peter Brown, president and cofounder of Cara Veterinary Corp., told AVMA News, “With the negotiations process at All Creatures Animal Hospital complete, we will turn our full focus to our important work: setting a new standard for quality care for pets and their parents and supporting the extraordinary people who care for them.”

Unions are a rarity in the veterinary space. All Creatures Animal Hospital is only the second private veterinary hospital to unionize, according to Liz Hughston, NVPU president and a registered veterinary technician. In 2020, Hughston was instrumental in unionizing Columbia River Veterinary Specialists in Vancouver, Washington, the first veterinary practice to do so.

One of the more notable terms of the contract is the creation of a tiered pay structure that accounts for employee seniority as well as skills and knowledge acquisition.

“There is little sanity or uniformity in the way veterinary practices pay their people,” Hughston said. “The great thing about the tiered pay structure is it clarifies what an employee needs to do to increase their wage without necessarily having to go into management, which many of us don’t want to do.”