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Veterinary workers in Brighton vote to unionize

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MAX SCHULTE
/
WXXI NEWS
Sam Estes, an ultrasound technician at Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services, and Cathy Zimmerman, a licensed veterinary technician, celebrate after workers who organized won the vote to unionize.

Employees at a veterinary hospital in Brighton made history Friday by becoming among the first in the nation to join a union.

They gathered at the Hampton Inn in Henrietta to watch remotely as the National Labor Relations Board counted the ballots cast by workers at Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services on East Henrietta Road.

The dozen or so veterinary assistants and technicians who attended the watch party cheered as the final vote count was read: 65-28.

"Hopefully, this creates some momentum that carries on to other hospitals," said Tara McGrain, a surgery animal care assistant.

McGrain and many of her co-workers at the hospital have been involved in union talks since June. The pro-union workers say they want better pay and working conditions to help them fight burnout, which are often cited as reasons for the ongoing labor crisis in veterinary medicine.

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MAX SCHULTE
/
WXXI NEWS
Tara McGrain is one of the Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Service workers who organized to form a union.

Staff shortages have plagued the industry in recent years and have only become worse during the coronavirus pandemic. VSES announced on Thursday that it did not have enough staff to continue its 24-hour service. Starting Jan. 17, the hospital will be closed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. until further notice.

Employees are optimistic that they can make the changes they seek if their employer, Thrive Pet HealthCare, comes to the bargaining table in good faith.

"We're gonna band together and actually be able to have the conversations we've been hoping for and hopefully they'll be good negotiating partners through that process with us," said Sam Estes, an ultrasound technician who helped lead the organizing effort.

The VSES workers are joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. IAMAW organizer Mike Evans said the more than two-to-one vote margin sends a signal to Thrive.

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MAX SCHULTE
/
WXXI NEWS
Mike Evans, an organizer with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, keeps a running tally of votes as employees from Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services gather Friday to hear the final count announced by the National Labor Relations Board.

"This definitely makes the statement that the company really should consider that they have issues that should be addressed," he said. "This isn't about overreaching; this is about working with (them). This margin is substantial and it provides a lot of strength for this particular group."

Thrive Pet HealthCare issued the following statement: "We firmly believe that our teams are better served without union representation but respect the election-related process. We remain committed to creating a supportive and thriving environment for our teams and serving our patients and pet families."

The National Labor Relations Board is expected to certify the union vote in 10 days.