ILWU members ratify industry’s first-ever veterinary workers contract

VANCOUVER, Wash.—Call it the veterinary workers’ victory in Vancouver. By a 53-1 margin, workers at Columbia River Veterinary Specialists in the Washington city ratified the first-ever union contract in the private veterinary industry.

The vote among the workers, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Local 5, came after more than 15 months of bargaining, including delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. The sessions followed a successful organizing drive, where low pay and lack of due process on the job drove ILWU’s success.

“Veterinary service is a rapidly growing, lucrative industry where workers are often faced with challenging working conditions and pay not commensurate with the education and skill required for the profession,” the local said.

“In recent years, there has been massive consolidation of the industry as large companies acquire locally owned hospitals, leading to a corporate-led environment where workers’ rights and sustainable jobs for local communities too often come second to profit.”

The union said many CRVS clinic workers had not had raises in years due to the increasing corporate control. They’ll now get pay hikes. The low pay led many to consider leaving the industry, despite their love of and care for people’s pets.

“Since I had not received any meaningful wage increase from CRVS over my five years of employment, I had the lowest hourly wage of any technician with my experience, education, and skillset,” Licensed Veterinary Technician Tracie Vestal told ILWU. “This did not reflect the unique role I served in the hospital as the sole LVT expert in laboratory diagnostics.”

“I considered sub-standard pay par for the course as a veterinary technician” and was considering transferring to caring for people, instead, “to be more financially sound. This was an agonizing consideration given my deep and abiding love and dedication. This equity in pay will set CRVS apart as being a leading employer in the local veterinary community.”

ILWU Vice President Bobby Olvera agreed on that outcome from a “historic” contract. “Organizing workers in an industry with no history of unionization is a difficult task, but also a necessary one. As the seventh guiding principle of the ILWU states, ‘To organize the unorganized must be a cardinal principle of any union worth its salt, and to accomplish this is not merely in the interest of the unorganized. It is for the benefit of the organized as well.’”

Local 5 did not get everything the workers wanted in the new pact but called it a vast improvement over current working conditions. Gains included higher wages with wage transparency and yearly raises, grievance procedures including invocation only of just cause for discipline, and better benefits. CRVS must let Local 5 inform all new hires about the contract and opportunities to join.

And, of course, since CRVS is a veterinary clinic, the workers’ bereavement leave contract section includes leave to mourn the loss of your pet.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.