Teamsters of Humane Society bargaining team recognized at Teamsters membership meeting .

An estimated 10 million dogs are lost every year. When brought into shelters, they frequently exhibit aggressive and defensive behaviors. It is up to shelter employees like kennel aide Alexander Yeatman to care for them and put them at ease. At the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County, Yeatman does the dangerous and dirty labor of cleaning the kennels, yet he wouldn’t trade his job for any other.

When the animals come in, apprehensive and sometimes injured, it is his passion to help them get their confidence back, gain healthy weight, and show their true characters. Yet the management can too easily dismiss Alex’s voice and assessment in observing the animals. “Pets score on a behavioral test a certain way when they come in, but they behave very differently once they get accustomed to the kennel. I need my voice to be heard so that I can advocate for the animals I care for,” he said.

"Now we are able to speak up for the animals and get the equipment we need to provide adequate care. We are not afraid of retaliation anymore."

Last year, Alex decided to change that. He played an essential role in organizing the kennel aides, and now he is a shop steward and a Teamster. “It used to be like walking on eggshells, so by unionizing I wanted us to be recognized as a vital part of the organization. We’re not just poop picker-uppers. I wanted to show the employer that this position should be valued,” stated Alex.

Once recognized as Teamsters, the kennel aides along with the adoption service representatives (ASRs), receiving clerks, and other Teamster-represented workers plunged into their most challenging contract negotiations yet. The Humane Society was struggling under poor management and going through administrative change.

Sarah Anderson – Cat Foster Coordinator, shop steward, and member of the bargaining committee reflects on her experience. “We felt like we were all under the gun and were threatened. Still, we stuck together despite the divide that the old management was attempting to create between workers.”

The tense negotiations lasted 10 months and at one point Teamsters even took a strike vote. An agreement was finally reached in September. The group succeeded in maintaining their pension and longevity pay, yet their biggest win was merging kennel aides into the existing Teamster contract. “Every single one of us got to a breaking point, yet we persevered. Solidarity was what carried us towards this win,” said Sarah.

Alex expressed a similar sentiment. “We became closer together as a team. Now we are able to speak up for the animals and get the equipment we need to provide adequate care. We are not afraid of retaliation anymore.”

Today, Teamsters at the Humane Society are looking forward to the future and are willing to make sacrifices to keep the organization going, but they will continue to stand up for fair treatment and raise their voice for the vulnerable animals in their care.