Photo credit: Siena Animal Hospital.

VCA Animal Hospitals is selling its location at 600 Alabama St. in the Mission — a move that will effectively kill a three-year unionization effort by its employees, and may leave many of them jobless. 

In an email to staff on Tuesday, Zander Bennett, the hospital chain’s Los Angeles-based director of operations, said that VCA has reached an agreement to sell San Francisco Veterinary Specialists to a smaller San Francisco veterinary hospital called Animal Internal Medicine & Specialty Services, or AIMSS, which is located in the Inner Sunset. 

“AIMSS approached us to purchase our building and certain assets,” Bennett wrote in the email. “After the purchase is complete, AIMSS will be exclusively responsible for any staffing and hiring decisions.” 

The Dec. 8 notice added that “the asset sale will result in all VCA SFVS employees being laid off at this location, and VCA SFVS will be ceasing operations.”

It will officially close its doors on Dec. 18, and the sale will be complete by the end of the month. The price tag of the deal is unclear. 

An emailed inquiry to new owners AIMSS regarding whether it would retain some employees — and perhaps honor the hospital’s nascent union — was not immediately returned. On Thursday afternoon, a woman who picked up the phone at AIMSS said, “We have no comment at this time.” 

Laura Territo, a veterinary technician at the Mission District animal hospital who spearheaded the unionization effort, said the West Coast Pet Care Workers, which formed in early 2018, was bargaining with VCA over the effects of the closure. It’s unclear what leverage they have but it appears they are looking for some sort of settlement. “Since we are currently bargaining over the effects of the sale and until we settle with VCA, we are not inclined to get into greater detail,” Territo said in an email.  

After more than two years of bargaining, the union and VCA were never able to agree on a contract. VCA — a chain with 800 animal hospitals and 60 diagnostic laboratories across the country, which was purchased by the Mars Corporation in January 2017 for $9.1 billion — resisted the union. It hired the law firm Jackson Lewis, a notorious “union buster,” to handle the negotiations. 

The National Labor Relations Board in August 2019 determined that VCA was violating labor laws by not engaging in good-faith negotiations and issued a complaint, KQED reported last September.  

Roy San Filippo, a spokesman for the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, which was helping the West Coast Pet Care Workers with their bargaining, reiterated that the union was negotiating over the effects of the closure, but declined to go into detail. 

“It goes without saying that workers are upset that efforts to secure a first contract will not come to fruition,” he said.   

It’s unclear whether the sale is an attempt to completely tamp out the union effort. A message left with a VCA spokesperson was not returned.

But Santiago Lerma, an aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who had been involved in the negotiations, said the intent of the move was obvious.

“It looks pretty obvious what they’re doing — they’re union-busting,” Lerma said. “This is an obvious attempt to undermine union organization and provide fair wages and benefits to employees by a multinational corporation.”

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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45 Comments

  1. I am devastated by this news. I live in Marin but have taken my pets to VCA SF for ER services, for cancer treatment, and for other internal medicine care for over 20 years. In every case, the care was exemplary, and always with the most desired outcome. Our animals and their owners will be hurt as a result of the loss of this fine facility due to the employee unionization effort. I hope that the various vets that have cared for my animals over the years stay on with AIMSS or remain local so that I am able to track them down for future care.

    1. Susan: “…due to the employee unionization effort”?? Surely you mean due to the union-busting effort. It would be strange to blame this on the people who actually care for your pets, as if there is something wrong with seeking to collectively bargain. Agree on being sad to see it close. My cat got good care there.

      1. Scott — sorry not sorry. I meant exactly as I stated. If the employees were not happy at VCA, they were free to leave and seek employment elsewhere, which is exactly what they will be doing now with the closure. And now VCA clients are forced to find extraordinary ER & Specialty care elsewhere for our pets — the real victims in all of this.

        1. I agree with Susan. Veterinary support staff is in high demand. If you don’t like working for VCA, don’t. If I had certain staff in my clinic essentially gang up on me and make demands, I would tell them they were welcome to find jobs elsewhere. If staff felt overworked there or underpaid…well…that is veterinary medicine (actually, all medicine) for you. Nature of the beast. It is like that in ALL veterinary clinics, corporate or not.

          1. Ah the person who lives in Marin is opposed to unionization…. how shocking. But I bet she sure appreciates having weekends (thank you unions for that).

            Having decent working conditions and fair pay should not be dependent on there being a “high demand” for your particular labor.

    2. we went there once for an emergency where the dog needed stitches, a week later we returned for it to be checked and even i could tell the stitches weren’t ready to come out, they took them out anyway and of course the wound came apart and those bastids were dismissive. We had to go to mission pet and have new stitches put in. I am ok with the demise of VCA, too bad it’s only just one branch

    3. Maybe consider bringing your pets to a place that cares about people as much as animals. Veterinary staff are severely underpaid by these MASSIVE corporations – VCA is owned by Mars – and not treated well. There’s less and less options for veterinary staff as VCA buys more and more

    4. Aimss who will be moving in to the VCA site is a very good emergency veterinary hospital in the sunset we will be sad to see them go but a much larger place was needed all the staff and vet techs are fabulous so for all pet owners who are upset seeing VCA close the new owners are highly qualified and specialists , you will like them tremendously!

  2. VCA is a horrible vet chain. They push unnecessary tests and lean on vets to upsell treatments will low success rates.

    1. Our experience has been just the opposite. We took our dog to VCA for his ongoing and severe sensitive-stomach issues after our primary vet suggested invasive scope testing. The internal medicine vet specialist at VCA (Dr. Craig Maretzki) suggested a most conservative treatment, a change in food diet to rule out food allergies before anything else would be done. So he/VCA avoided expensive treatments for us, and our dog lived a full, happy and healthy life after a simple and inexpensive change in diet.

      1. hi there
        I am very sad to hear this news. 3 of my pets have had treatment there. yes it is expensive but show me a vet in SF that isn’t? I had no idea it was closing and am devastated. My pet was under Dr. Craig Maretzki’s care and i went to book a follow up appt and learned the news. Does anyone know where he went?

      2. That was my experience too. Dr. Mareztki agreed with my initial thoughts that a laparoscopic full thickness biopsy was unnecessary and in particular came with its own set of risk and side effects for a 15 year old cat. He has her on steroids and a special diet. She is doing quite well, and does not have the cancer the biopsy was supposed to determine. She’ll live out her days like any old timer, at home with loads of love and die peacefully of old age. Anyone that thinks this new place taking over is going to down sell tests, wait until you are a patient of Jill Williamson. She’ll have your credit card in her pocket before you know what hit you. She almost got mine, and I am not an easy mark, let me tell you. SHE is the high pressure pitch you won’t see coming, trust me. Every time I mention AIMSS or Jill to any of my other vets (my cat has a team) they all sigh, shake their heads, and look disgusted. Even other vets don’t like her.

        1. Also love Dr. Maretzki, with 3 animals under his conservative care. I emailed him in his last week there and he said his new location would be posted on vetspecialists.com when he landed. I check every couple days – as of this morning, no updates.

    2. Never, not once in 18 years did that happen to me. They may suggest options to me, but it is ultimately up to me to make an informed decision and that is exactly what I do. No one there, and I have seen several physicians for several types of issues, has ever pressured me to do anything. I certainly take their knowledge and advice to heart, they are the experts, but the decision is mine alone. I have been able to provide my cat with the best care possible, no one could have done better for her and I am grateful for all of them including their front desk staff, technicians, lab technicians, assistants, everyone. It is heartbreaking and a disgrace that this has happened. I am also quite disgusted.

  3. I am very sorry and sad to hear this news. VCA have given our pets the utmost stellar care over the years. Of all the vet hospitals around the bay area, VCA on Alabama St. was the best! The doctors and staff were excellent, always extremely professional and the most knowledgeable. Our two Pekes that passed in 2018 lived as long as they did because of the care and excellent advice we received.

  4. VCA cares not one iota about their employees. The almighty dollar is the ruler. Good people work there. Good medicine is practiced… but the doctors are judged and rewarded by corporate for making money. This situation is just one example. They are willing to let go of great people to avoid paying them a fair wage.

  5. My thoughts are with the laid-off workers who are surely the victim of union busting. That said, the tactics I was often appalled by the hard-sell tactics used by the Vets and others at VCA . I felt like the most horrible person in the world during a difficult time in the life of my 15 year old lab and my personal finances. He was sick and suffering and I was not working – I was told by the staff that – “if they were in my shoes they would spend the money – the high option – $2700 dollars”. I burst into tears and took him home. They were way too corporate and slick so really – good riddance.

    1. That’s tough. We have had similar experiences at other specialty/emergency hospitals. Even at AIMS the neurologist was ready for a $5k experimental procedure on our older dog’s spine that we politely declined, he recovered. AIMS took care of my cattle dog with addisons for years along with multiple off hour emergencies with various other pets. Hopefully they retain some of the VCA employees.

    1. Your pet could never be mistakenly euthanized. Law requires forms be signed by the owner before euthanasia can take place, and no doctor would risk their license and euthanize without those forms being signed. If what you say is really true, you would have known you had legal recourse and pursued it.

  6. DR. ALAN STEWART WHERE ARE YOU??? You brought this most excellent clinic into being from the foundation up. You hired a competent and caring staff and your client’s had praise. As a vet tech and pet care professional experienced in general, critical and hospice home care my experiences with VCA have been shaded by my own experiences on a client’s behalf. I will not relish informing my clients of the clinic’s demise. A sad end to a great place, but that seems to be the VCA WAY!

  7. SFVS was a different place before VCA and before Dr.Stewart retired. Many good vets had already moved on from VCA. And this is union busting pure and simple. Vet techs are horribly paid and work under challenging conditions. They deserve better.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. SFVS was the best. VCA was too, only in that they had some of the same staff and docs. This is union busting and it is disgusting.

  8. Maybe they can organize and start their own vet clinic? What’s stopping them from getting a loan and creating their own company?

    1. They have to be willing to take a risk
    2. The have to be able to pass the onerous law of starting a business in SF
    3. They have to be willing to gamble on themselves

  9. I am so disheartened by this move by VCA. I have brought many a cat to SF VCA over the past few years and the staff have been amazing. Dr. Maretzki has been providing care to my cat with a heart problem and I am anxiously awaiting news as to where he will end up so we can continue to work with him. But it is safe to say that I will be avoiding any and all VCA hospitals in the future, I won’t support union busters.

    To everyone who is whining about unionization… please go read up on labor history and then be grateful for your weekends, 40 hour work weeks, and child labor laws.

  10. Shastine, I couldn’t agree more – just substitute “an intestinal” for “a heart” and your sentence is what I would have written, i.e. “Dr. Maretzki has been providing care to my cat with a heart problem and I am anxiously awaiting news as to where he will end up so we can continue to work with him.” Does anyone know where he has ended up?

    1. Also love Dr. Maretzki, with 3 animals under his conservative care. I emailed him in his last week there and he said his new location would be posted on vetspecialists.com when he landed. I check every couple days – as of this morning, no updates.

  11. I am boycotting all things “MARS” after reading this. My Taiwan dog was treated extensively and expensively at VCA this year. She received excellent care but requires follow up. Without notice we are left without our vet, I cannot locate her records and the advice is find a new vet. Sorry everybody but capitalism does not an efficient system make. So we get unemployed workers, patients left out on their own, and corporate profits going through the roof. VCA and Mars need to be sanctioned in some way for this kind of effect on our community. We have already heavily invested in VCA San Francisco through our patronage. We are left with a referring email and phone number that has no information about my pet’s records.

  12. Private equity has ruined human health care, now it is ruining our animal’s healthcare. They see increased spending on animals, so look to it as a new market and are squeezing profits. Well, squeezing profits means squeezing the hard working people providing the care. Shameful. Private equity has led to the gross inequality in income in this country and it is ruining the US. And now our pets as well.

  13. Although I no longer live in San Francisco, I was very sad to see the closure of SFVS. Over the course of 6 years we had 5 of our cats treated there and used the services of Oncology, Internal Medicine, Dentistry, Cardiology, and Neurology. More than one of our kitties was seen in the ER and they saved our Evie’s life. Although the customer service declined after the Mars acquisition, the medicine was always rock solid. These doctors are the most dedicated professionals I ever had the pleasure of knowing and I never doubted their commitment to our cats. I remember getting more than one phone call at 9 pm from Dr. Stewart or Dr. Maretzki after what I’m sure had been a very long day and they were patient, kind and gave me as much time as I needed. I exchanged many off-hours email with Dr. Soltero-Rivera and Dr. Atwater was my rock when our Sugar’s breast cancer metastasized to her lungs. Two of my kitties benefited from the brilliant hands of Dr. Mehl and Dr. Watt. And Dr. Hammer is one in a million. I hope they all land well.

  14. +1 on Dr Maretzki, he’s wonderful. I have a 10 months old puppy with IBD and he is the only one that was able to get him stable. If anyone knows where he is, please let us know!

  15. Loved VCA in Mission. All vets and staff were amazing. They will be greatly missed. I too miss Dr Maretzki. He saved my little Serge cat. The best. I hope he ends up here in the Bay Area. Sadness.

  16. +1 on Dr Maretzki.. He took the time to listen to all my observations and understand the full history with my pup and our journey trying to figure out if he has Cushings.. If anyone finds out where he’s gone, I’m interested as well! Same with Dr. Polidoro, a wonderful surgeon

  17. ive always had great service at aimss in the sunset. after HORRID experiences at vca, both at their emergency services and All Pets, i will still be reluctant to go back to the building on alabama. such bad memories. i feel bad for the regular employees at vca but the vets (except dr. christensen at all pets) and management need to go. mars, the giant privately owned parent company of vca is infamous for its animal experimentation. hope aimss brings new good juju to the mission

  18. I am so happy AIMSS is expanding. They saved my dog with severe digestive issues when other emergency hospitals turned us away, and Dr. Black is the first vet who actually really listened to my concerns. After years of other vets telling me it was all in my head, we finally have a treatment plan that is working and my dog is doing well.

  19. Dr Maretzski is the best!! We have had the best care at VCA for fifteen years. Every employee, tech and doctor was superb.
    I hope our doctor starts a practice somewhere.

  20. As a 20 year electrical service repair person at the 600 alabama sf location, The employee turn off went into hyper drive from 2017 on. That would be the time of sale to the presnet owner.

  21. Sorry to see the VCA mission leave for good. I took my old Golden Retriever there for several issues, and always got a fantastic service and follow up from both veterinarians, vet experts, and staff in general. I have seen a lot of different comments in here, but I have to say I am sad to go back to SPCA, where the service cant even compete a tiny bit with what VCA had to offer. Guess I have to find a new vet for my 8 weeks old puppy. Thank you!

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