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Cannabis workers continue to organize

SEPTEMBER 4, 2023 CARA WIETSTOCK

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The cannabis labor movement has been silently shepherded by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). From Michigan to Chicago and over to Rhode Island, cannabis employees are establishing protections by working with union representatives.




Around the country, union negotiations have gotten employees higher pay, set workplace safety requirements, established seniority, and more. These are small steps to set a standard for America’s cannabis workers.

“The Teamsters launched a national campaign to organize the cannabis industry a little over two years ago. Since then, we have successfully organized more than 1,000 members and won contracts that address the most important issues to workers in this craft,” Teamsters western region international vice president and food processing division director Peter Finn shared with GreenState in an email. “Issues like job security, annual raises, guaranteed tips and discounts, enhanced occupational safety, respect in the workplace, and a voice on the job.”

UFCW from Rhode Island to Las Vegas Rise Dispensary workers in Warwick, Rhode Island, voted 50 to six to join UFCW Local Union 328 in July, according to ABC6. The workers are seeking higher pay, better benefits, and workplace protections. Rise is owned by Green Thumb Industries, a corporate cannabis firm whose Chicago, Ill. locations have been in tense negotiations with Teamsters 777 in Chicago for months. Recently, Las Vegas MedMen employees also voted to join UFCW Local 711, according to a press release from the organization. “It is time for cannabis workers in Vegas to be recognized for the labor and value we provide,” Las Vegas MedMen employee Sandra Becerril shared in the release. “We look forward to standing united with my coworkers and our union representatives to work with our employer to negotiate for the pay, protections, and benefits we have earned and deserve.” Teamsters 777 takes on the Midwest

Less than one month after reaching a tentative agreement with two Zen Leaf dispensaries, employees of the Verano subsidiary are celebrating a ratified contract.

The contract includes a 17 to 20 percent pay increase over the following three years. Dispensary employees will also get paid time off, employer-funded retirement contributions, seniority-based overtime, and a fair disciplinary process rather than “at will” employment. “It just goes to show that we really do have a voice loud enough to help create proper work conditions,” dispensary worker Lailane Dela Cruz said in a Teamsters press release. “I see this contract as just the beginning. Others will see this as a stepping stone in helping to create a new standard throughout the cannabis business.”

In Illinois, Teamsters 777 organized employees at a fifth Cresco Labs location, this time in Sunnyside. Wellness Advisors and other employees “overwhelmingly” voted to join, seeking a better quality of life. “I want to be able to have one job and not have to work multiple jobs to survive,” Cresco wellness advisor Crystal Hernandez shared in a press release.

Over in Michigan, Teamsters Local 406 just ratified the second cannabis contract in the state, according to a press release obtained by GreenState. The delivery drivers and budtenders at Ascend Cannabis Provisions in Grand Rapids, Mich., established protections through unionizing.

The contract includes an immediate pay raise followed by a three percent wage increase yearly. Local 406 also negotiated protections from undue firing, enhanced safety for drivers, more paid time off, guaranteed discounts, and tips. Delivery driver Adam Mosher served a critical role on the bargaining committee.

“Conditions can be so much better for everybody if we all just show some solidarity,” shared Mosher. “There’s such an opportunity in cannabis, especially in Michigan, to gain ground in the labor movement before the industry gets out of control. Before the massive CEO-to-worker pay gaps. I think we have some momentum, and we have the opportunity to strike while the iron is hot to take back what’s ours. Now is the time.” Sham unions deter efforts in California

Successes over the last few months have come despite at least 10 alleged fake “company” unions in California attempting to divert efforts. Chris Roberts of MJBizDaily broke the story over the last few months.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a complaint against N3 Systems and the National Agricultural Workers Union with the State of California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, sparking the inquiry. The Brotherhood alleges that these are sham unions, and organizers have no intention of establishing labor protections.

California established a law that requires workplaces with over 20 employees to sign with a “bona fide” labor union. This is meant to set workers up for protection, but instead, it has sparked “sham” or “company” unions.

A sham union is quantified by meeting full criteria, including lack of member participation, no evidence of efforts on behalf of workers, and not having a physical office, to name a few. Some of the criteria may be true of smaller bona fide unions. Before being declared a sham, unions meet almost all of the bullet points. Company unions in California clearly haven’t stopped momentum in other U.S. markets as Teamsters and UFCW chapters continue seeking protections for cannabis workers.

“I have total faith that the profit-generating workers in cannabis — the ones who sell, harvest, and deliver the product — have what it takes to seize what they deserve. They will make cannabis a prosperous, middle-class career. Critical victories like this one keep happening throughout the country. This contract is the gust of wind before the tornado of new organizing in the state,” Finn concluded.

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