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.”