As legalization continues to spread across the US, cannabis workers are coming together to protect their rights within this new, budding industry.
Workers at Cresco Labs in Massachusetts are celebrating, and with good reason; they’ve just signed off on their latest union contract.
“I am so proud of our hardworking team at Cresco for sticking together and securing this victory,” cheers Molly Balbuena, a 3-year employee at Cresco Labs, Fall River, and one of the negotiators of the new contract.
The agreement secures steady annual pay rises over the next 3 years and outlines fair scheduling policies to protect the workers’ hours. It also ensures Cresco’s cultivation workers get important workplace protection and retirement benefits.
“We are so excited to have secured the better future and collective voice we were looking for” explains Balbuena in a statement following the victory. “We urge all cannabis workers to come together and say Union Yes!”
Pay rises secured over the next 3 years
And Cresco’s workers aren’t alone; as more and more US states are changing their stance on cannabis and the national industry for legal weed grows, the worker’s making it all happen are mobilizing to protect their rights and have a voice within this new industry.
On Wednesday, June 23rd, enough employees signed authorization cards at a March and Ash dispensary in Mission Valley, San Diego, for the entire store to go union. Like other March and Ash employees, those of the Mission Valley store are now protected by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Only a few weeks earlier, March and Ash employees from other branches joined the same union. Together with its representatives, they were able to negotiate a contract that ensures childcare and education reimbursements, cash bonuses and retirement benefits, wage increases, paid time-off, and even bereavement leave.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is also behind what they claim to be the “first-ever national agreement” that unionizes cannabis workers across different US states.
CBD production unionized
UFCW announced the agreement, which unionized the entire workforce of joint cannabis venture Union Harvest and Nature’s Root Lab, on May 25th. It covers workers from both Colorado and Florida in production, packaging, purchasing, sales and worker/customer education.
“We are committed to running a pro-union company that will produce and sell high quality CBD products to consumers across the nation and honor the hard work of our employees with a union contract” commented Justin Eisenach, Managing Director and Founder of Union Harvest.
“That means higher wages and better benefits as well as giving workers a voice, which can be critical in any business, but particularly important in an emerging industry such as cannabis. Having a good relationship with our employees is important and a signed union contract is part of that. Now consumers will have a choice when they purchase CBD and can buy USA union-made, union-packed, union-sold products. ”
Linking up with UFCW is definitely no small feat for cannabis workers; the union represents an estimated 1.3 million workers across the US and Canada. Now, it’s also the largest representative of cannabis employees and counts with a dedicated Cannabis Division.
Unfortunately, however, the plan to go union doesn’t always bear fruit.
Last week, employees at Greenleaf Compassion Center (a licensed dispensary in Rhode Island) held a 1-day strike: The workers claim that their CEO, Seth Bock, unrightfully fired Ben Telford, a member of the company’s union negotiating committee.
Mr Telford told the Cannabis Business Times he was shocked to show up at work on June 23rd only to be told that he’d been terminated because his “services were no longer required.”
“When I asked for further explanation, I was told that there was none needed to be given at the time, so I gathered my belongings and left for the afternoon and said goodbye to everybody”. Harsh times in a booming industry.
Counter action against wrongful lay offs
Employees at Greenleaf voted 21:1 in favor of joining UFCW in April. According to the union, Mr Telford’s termination isn’t an isolated incident; in a press release, UFCW claims Mr Bock has “exhibited a history of retaliation against employees.”
According to the same release, Mr Bock has fired at least 4 other Greenleaf employees in the last 6 months; has been sued by a former employee for age and disability discrimination, and is currently being investigated by the US National Labor Relations Board for retaliation.
Up until now, the cannabis sector has seen very little union participation, which isn’t surprising seeing that weed remains a Schedule 1 drug under US federal law, and the entire industry hangs in a state of legal limbo.
As more and more states embrace legalization and the legal weed industry continues to grow, however, workers nonetheless seem determined to ensure that their jobs in the cannabis sector are just as secure and promising as a career in any other industry.