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Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Austin Pets Alive workers vote to unionize, creating the largest animal shelter union in the US

By meerna Jun12,2024

On Friday, after nearly a year of organizing, workers at local animal shelter Austin Pets Alive voted to form a union. According to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union representing APA workers, the union will support nearly 200 workers, making it the largest animal shelter union in the country.

APA workers say they are fighting for a contract that provides better pay and benefits, better work-life balance and newer pet equipment.

Morty Gillum, who handles cat placements for APA, said unionization will ultimately improve the lives of shelter animals.

“Our voices are not being heard when we are the ones caring for animals every day,” Gillum said. “Winning this election really gives us the opportunity to give animals the voice and support they need to get the care they need.”

APA workers began organizing in the summer of 2023 with the formation of Austin Pets Allied Workers (APAW). Last week marked the first successful attempt to form a union after years of trying, said Ryan Martinez, a dog behavior trainer at APA.

Martinez said better staffing policies would mean dogs would have more time to play, better training and more time to focus on each animal’s mental and emotional well-being.

“Our shelter works in such a way that we take dogs from other shelters. These are often dogs that would otherwise be left behind in some way or possibly euthanized,” Martinez said. “So we still take in dogs, but a lot of those dogs don’t necessarily get the resources that we know we can.”

Both Martinez and Gillum said more staff positions are needed, which would help give each animal the social media exposure needed to be adopted.

Gillum said the shelter has again suspended hiring for open positions, forcing employees to routinely work overtime in the often overcrowded shelter.

“Sometimes we stay long after our shift. I’ve seen (care teams) stay a few hours after their shifts and they’re just burnt out,” Gillum said. “It’s hard to pour from an empty cup.”

In a statement, APA President and CEO Ellen Jefferson called the vote to unionize “historic.”

“APA recognizes and respects the outcome of the election and will fully discharge all of our obligations under the law,” Jefferson said. “Our organization’s mission and vision is and always has been to serve the lives of the pets that need us most and the people who help them.”

Despite the vote, APA staff have a long way to go. Because Texas is a right-to-work state, APA workers may have a more difficult time getting everything they want out of their contract.

In a right-to-work state, workers can choose whether to join a union or not, but once a union is certified, it represents every employee in a union-eligible job, even those who choose not to be members and pay dues. . As KUT has previously reported, “this is believed to weaken the power of the trade union because it does not always enjoy the full support of all workers.”

APA management and the union have not entered into contract negotiations; a process that may take weeks or months.

“We love our shelter and we love our animals,” Martinez said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.”

By meerna

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