UI Vet Med techs picket

URBANA — Veterinary technicians who assist with surgeries and physical exams picketed outside the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine on Wednesday to demand better wages.

It was the first time the group held a picket since the start of negotiations with the university in December.

After several years of discussions, veterinary technicians at the UI last fall organized to become part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 698. The union represents a variety of employees, such as shopkeepers, mechanics, nurses and more, on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

"We're out here to get some attention, to show the university we're serious professionals and we deserve to be paid more," said Kristina Donze, a UI veterinary technician for almost 10 years. Donze, who works for the intensive care unit in the small animal clinic, has an associate's degree and is licensed by the state as a vet tech. The annual renewal of her license requires her to continue her education and Donze, like many others, she said, have obtained additional certifications in specialized areas such as oncology.

"Someone can't just jump into the job," Donze said.

"We are professionals, degreed and the UI requires us to be certified to work here.

"We do care a great deal for our patients and we want to be fairly and justly compensated for that," said Christopher Ward, a vet tech who graduated from Parkland College's vet tech program and is a clinical coordinator for equine services at the UI.

The union also represents animal caretakers, who feed animals and maintain cages, as well as clerical workers at the college, said Tara McCauley, chief negotiator with AFSCME 698.

"Those employees are compensated fairly. We're also asking vet techs to be compensated fairly," McCauley said.

AFSCME's main contract has been ratified and implemented (it's effective through Aug. 30, 2014), but for the newly added classifications, the university and union have been in negotiations since December, according to campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

"We continue to bargain in good faith as always," Kaler said.

About 60 veterinary technicians work in the vet school's clinics and hospital, with laboratory animals on campus and at the school's vet center Chicago.

Vet tech salaries range from $14.55 to $28.52 per hour, according to Kaler.

"Our research on comparable jobs in the community shows that we are well above the market average," she said.

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