At 8 a.m. this morning, employees at VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists took themselves for a walk.
Several dozen aspirational union workers walked out of work for an hour to call attention to what they say are the company’s unfair labor practices. The roughly 100 workers at the animal hospital formed a union last year and have been in contract negotiations that they say have dragged on longer than necessary. Official unfair labor practice charges this year filed with the National Labor Relations Board charge that the company has not been bargaining with the workers in good faith, as required by law.
“We all discussed it and decided to walk out together,” said Katy Bradley, a veterinary assistant at the facility on 18th and Alabama. “At 8 a.m. we just sort of tag-teamed each other to say, ‘hey, you know, it’s time.’”
Multiple workers said that almost every union worker participated in the walkout, which they said also served as a show of unity. “It makes everybody feel stronger to walk out together,” said Bradley. “It’s scary, but we’re all together and we’re going to keep fighting this battle together.”
Laura Territo, a registered veterinary technician, said the mood was positive outside as workers marched and chanted. “It was a good atmosphere, it was very supportive,” she said. “We’re trying to raise the bar in this profession.”
Today’s dispute was specifically in response to VCA assigning supervisors do work that is supposed to be done by members of the union. This practice can cost the union jobs, and labor law requires the company to negotiate with the union before making changes like this.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint two weeks ago saying that the union’s charge against the company has merit. According to the complaint, VCA “has been failing and refusing to bargain collectively in good faith with the exclusive collective-bargaining representative of its employees,” violating the National Labor Relations Act.
“They’re trying to diminish the workforce and frustrate them,” said Agustin Ramirez, a staff member with the ILWU, the larger union the workers at VCA are affiliated with. “Workers are fed up with them breaking the law.”
The NLRB is a federal body with members appointed by the president that behaves similarly to a court specifically to judge labor disputes. The board will conduct a hearing in September before making a final determination, unless the charge is settled before then.
A flyer handed out by workers during their walkout also complained of other issues at the animal hospital, including “short staffing with inadequate training” that affects the care they provide to their patients.
“We still want to do our jobs,” said Territo. “But we’re growing tired of the lack of bargaining in good faith. We wanted to get their attention.”
VCA is a Los Angeles-based chain of hundreds of animal hospitals that employs tens of thousands of workers and collects billions of dollars in revenue. In 2017, the company was bought by Mars, the makers of candies like Snickers and of the dog food brand Pedigree, for about $9 billion.
According to public filings with the US Department of Labor, VCA spent more than $200,000 on “labor relations consultants” last year, a term that usually refers to consultants hired during a union campaign to dissuade workers from organizing. The company had not responded to Mission Local’s request for comment at press time.
Workers said they will continue to take action to persuade VCA to bargain a contract with them in good faith. “You have to stick up for yourself,” said Bradley. “You can’t just take this abuse.”