Staff at S.F. Animal Hospital Walk Off Job Amid Ongoing Contract Negotiations

Supervisor Hillary Ronen spoke in support of veterinarians and other employees of VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, San Francisco’s largest animal hospital, who walked off the job Thursday over allegedly unfair labor practices.  (Kate Wolffe/KQED)

Employees of San Francisco's largest animal hospital walked off the job Thursday over allegations of unfair labor practices.

The action, which included technicians, assistants, coordinators and facilities personnel, but not veterinariansmarks the second walkout in three months at VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, located in the Mission District. It comes amid increasingly tense contract negotiations between employees and management that have dragged on for roughly 18 months.

In August, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against VCA, which owns some 750 animal hospitals nationwide, determining that it had violated labor laws by not engaging in good-faith bargaining. The agency also called for a federal court hearing in late September to further investigate the issue. In the meantime, bargaining sessions will continue on Friday with a federal mediator.

VCA was purchased in 2017 by Mars Inc. Known principally as a candy company, Mars has in recent years acquired roughly 2,000 veterinary clinics in the United States, in addition to about 400 more globally.

Soon after the acquisition, hospital staff voted to unionize, joining the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Staff now claim that hospital management, in addition to prolonging negotiations, is also assigning union work to non-union staff.

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Katie Bradley, who has been a veterinary assistant at the hospital for seven years, said hospital staff feel demoralized by stalled contract negotiations.

"We can't give as good care as we want to give because we're stretched so thin, and it's not fair to our patients and it's not fair to our clients," said Bradley. "A lot of us really love what we do and they’re drowning us out."

The roughly 30 protesting workers were joined by several city officials, including Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Rafael Mandelman.

Ronen, who represents the district the hospital is in and attended a recent negotiating session, said VCA and its parent company, Mars,  is eroding workers' rights, offering meager wages and short-staffing its hospitals.

"We've got to fight against this corporation that is eroding care not just here but all across the country," she said. "They are doing every sneaky tactic to stall the negotiation of the first contract," Ronen added. "It’s disgusting, it's illegal and it needs to stop," she said.

A Mars spokeswoman said that the company remains committed to reaching a fair contract for employees and cooperating with the federal mediator.

Correction: The original headline of this article, which stated that veterinarians participated in the walkout, was inaccurate. No veterinarians were involved.  The labor action included technicians, assistants, coordinators and facilities personnel. 

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