In March, Animal Control Officers at the Peninsula Humane Society (PHS) in San Mateo County went on a one-day strike in response to unfair labor practices by PHS President Ken White. By April, union workers at PHS had ratified a good union contract – a victory for a group of strong Teamsters 856 members.
The one-day show of strength and solidarity and resulting contract victory were the culmination of months of hard work by Teamsters 856 members at PHS to improve both their working conditions and the conditions of the animals in their care.
Back in the fall of 2016, a group of employees blew the whistle on neglectful conditions at PHS that were harmful to animals. Broken kennels, collapsing roofs, and lack of air conditioning in animal transport vehicles whose temperatures could reach 96 degrees were appalling, and needed to be addressed. At the press conference to shine the light on these practices, Vaughn Hyndman, a PHS dispatcher told reporters: “We don’t do this for the money, this isn’t about the contract, this is about the job environment and this is about the animals.”
Soon after the whistle was blown, management began to try to bust the union. Employees were told to get rid of their union, and had their health care and jobs threatened.
But Teamsters 856 stayed strong.
The union filed charges of unfair labor practices, and the Animal Control Officers went on a one-day strike. Fellow members in both the Animal Care and Adoptions departments were supportive, and not one member crossed the picket line.
On the day of the strike, the Animal Control Officers were happy with the show of solidarity by fellow members, elected leaders, and the public who showed up with signs ready to walk the line. “It’s great to see this support for us,” said Ashlie Fairless. “We don’t want to strike. We want to work.”
Andrew Donoho, an Animal Care Technician was proud to see the Animal Control Officers representing their unit on the picket line. “I supported the brave souls that went out on strike,” he said. “When I pulled up [to PHS] with my crew and we saw the extent of what was happening, I told them that it was for our benefit. I was overwhelmed by the support.”
In the midst of it all, members were still fighting for a good contract. The battle with management was over a fair 3% cost of living increase.
“For me, it was a matter of respect and appreciation from management for the emotionally and physically draining work that we do every day at PHS,” said Jillian Bletz who works in the Adoption/Customer Service Department. “We have chosen to work here because we care about animals. None of us are here to strike it rich. Raising staff compensation not only will make it possible for us to continue the work that we are passionate about, but it also makes us able to afford life in the Bay Area.”
Teamsters 856 members at PHS reached a tentative agreement on April 5. The five-year agreement includes annual 3% increases, no increase to employee health insurance, and the formation of an animal wellness committee. The committee will consist of three members who will receive paid time off to work on strategies to improve animal wellness.
“It was an honor and inspiration to be able to support such courageous and dedicated leaders in fighting to improve life for their coworkers and the animals they care for,” said Teamsters 856 Representative Tim Jenkins, who chaired the negotiations. “It sends a message to everyone watching this intense fight –other employers, politicians, and community members. They know that we were tested and that our solidarity prevailed.”
Teamsters 856 sends condolences to the loved ones of PHS Shop Steward Dylan Skiles who passed away in April.