Today's Veterinary Business

AUG 2018

Today’s Veterinary Business provides information and resources designed to help veterinarians and office management improve the financial performance of their practices, allowing them to increase the level of patient care and client service.

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31 August/September 2018 • TODAYSVETERINARYBUSINESS.COM Organized labor gained a foothold at two West Coast veterinary hospitals, but whether its entry is an aberration or the sign of a groundswell is up for debate. The union question Business LABOR RELATIONS As the conversation grew, so did interest among workers at other clinics, a development that attracted the attention of prac- tice owners near and far. Could the movement actually foment change? Are unions inside veteri- nary hospitals a real possibility? To be sure, many staff members have no interest in joining a union. They are largely content with their careers, the compensation and their relationship with management. "I don't feel a need for a union at this point," said Jean Wise, RVT, a veterinary nurse for 30 years, most recently at Metropolitan Veterinary Hospital in Copley, Ohio. "[Metropolitan] is very compet- itive with other hospitals. We have set hours … full benefits, 401(k), [paid] continuing education. "I would not be interested. If I'm unhappy, there are other places I can go." Uncertain Times for Unions Labor economist Chris Tilly, Ph.D., former director of UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employ- ment, said the National Veterinary Professionals Union is trying to or- ganize workers during an era of strong employer opposition to unions. "There has been an escalation of resistance, campaigns to avoid unionization and, in some cases, attempts to dislodge unions," he said. "It's become more of an uphill battle. On the whole, private-sector employers have been quite resistant." The nascent dis- cussion of unions in veterinary medicine comes at a time of declining na- tional numbers. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the overall union membership rate — the percentage of wage and sal- ary workers represented by a union — was 10.7 per- cent, or 14.8 million employees, in 2017. Those numbers pale in comparison to 34 years earlier, in 1983, when union members totaled 17.1 million, or 20.1 percent. The government report also noted that the median weekly earnings of nonunion workers in 2017 were just 80 percent of those of union members. A fact like that is a union selling point. Continued from cover West Coast Victories While practice owners might shud- der at the thought of union organiz- ers showing up at their doors, some have to address the issue head on. Take, for example, VCA San Francis- co Veterinary Specialists, where 56 of 76 eligible employees voted to form a union. What followed since the April 2018 balloting is a slow, on- going process of collective bargain- ing between VCA, a select group of employees and their lawyer, and a representative from the Internation- al Longshore and Warehouse Union, with which the staff chose to align. Doug Drew, president of U.S. animal hospitals for the Los Angeles-based VCA chain, said the company is committed to bar- gaining in good faith with the San Francisco staff. "Our position is that we would rather have the dialogue directly with our employees than have a third party, like a union, which may have competing interests to our employees, intermediate that dialogue," Drew said. Katy Bradley, a veterinary assis- tant at VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, proposed forming a union when her colleagues talked about trying to better their employ- ment terms. Bradley's grandfather had been a member of the Interna- tional Longshore and Warehouse Union, so she called him for advice. In September 2017, the union contacted Bradley to see how seri- ous she and her co-workers were. If the desire was strong, the union was prepared to assist. "We started discussing a union because we felt we weren't being heard," Bradley said. "There were multiple issues going on at the hos- pital, along with what we felt was a lack of accountability. The response from management was always, 'Put it in an email and we'll see what we can do.' We felt that a union would give us a voice." The April vote formally affirmed their interest. Weeks later, staff members at another hospital, Blue Pearl North Seattle, voted 14-1 to partner with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. "There were multiple issues going on at the hospital, along with what we felt was a lack of accountability. The response from management was always, 'Put it in an email and we'll see what we can do.' We felt that a union would give us a voice." — Katy Bradley

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