A crowd of 50 people and their pets rallied outside the VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists on Sept 27 in support of their newly formed union affiliated with the ILWU. The union vote marked the first time a group of veterinary workers in the country formed an ILWU-affiliated union. Union members and community supporters formed a picket line outside the animal hospital, demanding accountability and better work conditions.
VCA is owned by Mars Corporation, a global manufacturer of candy, gum, pet food and owner of animal hospitals as of Sept 2017, when it acquired the 780 VCA facilities across the country for $8 billion. With annual revenues upwards of $33 billion, Mars is the sixth-largest private company in the country. The corporation is wholly owned by the Mars family, America’s third-richest dynasty with a combined wealth of $60 billion that dates back to the 1800s.
Workers at VCA are fighting back against unfair work practices and poor working conditions. Union members spoke about how they are frequently short staffed and not able to get by on the wages they make.
‘We are fighting not just for ourselves but for the entire veterinary industry’
Raven has worked at the company for 16 years, and witnessed the deterioration of work conditions over time, especially after VCA’s purchase by a massive corporation. “We felt the union was the only way to address the issues of poor working conditions, a lack of training resources for new hires, and the need to retain experienced staff.” In the past month, 17 workers have left VCA on account of not being able to afford to live in the Bay Area and the unsafe working conditions. “They have allowed staff to dwindle to 25 percent capacity,” she explained. “We want better wages, and an end to mandatory overtime caused by the short staffing.”
Karen, who has worked at VCA-SFVS for 11 years, said that they want accountability from Mars Corporation. “We value the relationship between pets and the people who care about them,” and Mars by under-staffing workers at the hospital is not allowing VCA to deliver quality care. The struggle is not just in San Francisco, Karen noted, as “we are fighting not just for ourselves but for the entire veterinary industry.”
Negotiations for a better contract began in May, but the company has attempted to fear-monger among its workers and isolate union members. They even set up an email hotline for workers to target workplace conditions, all in an effort to undermine the union. “Where was this email hotline before we had a union?” asked Raven.
“VCA claims they’re bargaining in good faith, but we have only had three negotiations in the last four months, and we still have no contract,” she said. The contracts that they have put forth have been identical – and in some cases worse – than the existing one.
SF Supervisor Hilary Ronen also attended the rally, and spoke in support of the ILWU-affiliated union and their struggle for better wages.
Workers and supporters chanted their demands: “What do we want? Quality care! Respect!”
Raven rallied the crowd and called to mind a quote from Thomas Edison: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”