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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32 Today's Veterinary Business Business The National Veterinary Profes- sionals Union, though not involved with the San Francisco and Seattle efforts, applauded both votes. "We have multiple practices on our radar," said President Liz Hugh- ston, MEd, RVT, CVT, VTS. Financial Backlash Practice owners are naturally concerned that the demands of a unionized workforce would hit their hospitals in the pocketbook. "Speaking in general terms, if the cost of operating a hospital increases it would be natural for the hospital to raise prices to cover any increase in operational costs," said VCA's Drew. "Or it might be necessary for the hospital to reduce the number of team members, as has happened in other industries where wages went up faster than expected because of increased minimum wages. "Animal hospitals typically do not have high margins after capital expenditures and taxes are taken into account, so it would be natu- ral for owners of hospitals to try to at least offset additional costs that are incurred." Contract negotiations also could require the hiring of an at- torney to negotiate on the hospital owner's behalf. And then there are the obvious expenses likely to result from talks, such as higher wages and richer fringe benefits. "How does that not drive up costs?" said Mark Cushing, JD, the CEO and founder of the Animal Poli- cy Group consultancy and a Today's Veterinary Business columnist. "Two things are possible," Cushing said. "One is the costs are passed on to clients, the other is staff are laid off. The perspective of the union would be, 'No, you just need to make less money.' " New Territory Why would the 35,000-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union, traditionally a representative of West Coast dock workers, become involved with vet- erinary employees? Ryan Dowling, the union's assistant organizing director, said the labor group works with diverse professions. "We have a long history of organizing new workers and new industries, everything from hospital workers to police officers," Dowling said. "I had never organized an animal hospital, but I've done a lot of human hospitals, so it wasn't difficult for me to wrap my head around how workers can come together in that kind of situation." Veterinary workers who orga- nize under Dowling's union will not pay dues until a contract is signed with management. The process that can last up to a year. "Once workers come to an agreement and vote to pass their contract, they will pay dues to their organization and the union will begin to recoup that cost and build up its resources," Dowling said. "The workers will pay approximately 1.5 percent of their gross pay on hours worked." Union dues are spent in myriad ways, said UCLA's Tilly. "They pay for union staff and an office to handle activ- ities such as organiz- ing, communicating with the membership, collective bargaining, pursuing any griev- ances against man - agement, and build- ing up a strike fund in case of a strike or a lockout by manage- ment," he said. "Most unions also use a portion of funds for political action since so many labor issues are now affected by laws and pub- lic policies." Plusses and Minuses VanFleet, of the National Veterinary Professionals Union, said higher wages, improved working condi- tions and better benefits would help alleviate burnout, boost mo- rale and reduce turnover. "Employee support has been overwhelmingly positive," she said of the union discussions. "I think I can count on one hand the number of people I have talked to per- sonally who said they didn't want anything to do with it." Cushing warned of the negative con- sequences of a union on hospital dynamics, especially if some staff members do not support the drive. "How will that affect the mood and morale within what is typically a small-busi- ness environment?" Cushing asked. Could the pres- ence of a unionized staff hurt patient care? "It is certainly possible that cer- tain work rules that unions typically ask for will affect the work flow of a hospital and, therefore, patient care," VCA's Drew said. "Other activities that are not uncommon when unions and companies can't agree on a collective bargaining agreement, like a work slowdown and strikes, would certainly have a significant impact on patient care." Cost-cutting through staff re- ductions could impact patient care, Cushing said. "Fewer employees means the remaining staff have to do more in the same amount of time with the same number of patients," he said. "It could also mean fewer veterinarians or lower-compensat- ed veterinarians, which can mean fewer people are attracted to the profession, or that veterinarians who are paid less will be less mo- tivated. So, I think there clearly is that danger." Union activists are familiar with these concerns but downplay them. "A cost increase to clients is one way to pay for increased bene- fits and pay for staff, but we believe there are other ways to offset those expenses," Hughston said. "One way would be for a practice to accept a slightly smaller profit margin, to pay executives slightly less or to pay slightly smaller executive bonuses, for example." Better wages and benefits would reduce staff turnover, she said. "Turnover is tremendously expensive for a company," Hugh- ston said. "And that expense isn't just monetary; there is also a brain drain. You're losing the years of experience and training you have put into that employee." As for strikes, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, like many of its counterparts, has been involved in its share. Most involved dockworkers and were short-lived, but one in 1992 involv- ing human medicine — at Summit Medical Center in Oakland, Califor- nia — lasted seven weeks. No crystal ball can predict the future of unions in the veterinary industry, Tilly said. "A lot of unions may be thinking of this workforce," he said. "A [larger] union, such as the Service Employees International Union, which has a strong war chest, could potentially ramp up a nationwide campaign." Business LABOR RELATIONS A 2016 survey conducted by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America found that 44 percent of full-time nurses earned from $15 to $20 an hour. About 1 in 5 made $20 to $25 an hour, and just under 10 percent grossed $26 or more an hour. NAVTA noted that more benefits were being offered than ever before, through the group pointed out that "a majority of VTs are still responsible for their licensing fees, association memberships and uniforms." The most common benefits were paid vacation (85 percent), free or discounted veteri- nary care (82 percent), health insurance (74 percent) and continuing education registration, travel and lodging (72 percent). WAGES AND BENEFITS "Two things are possible. One is the costs are passed on to clients, the other is staff are laid off. The perspective of the union would be, 'No, you just need to make less money.' " — Mark Cushing

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