Protecting Your Rights: Cannabis Workers’ Unions

Published on March 24, 2016, By Julie Godard

Marijuana News

Cannabis Unions: The cannabis industry is becoming more and more mainstream every day, especially in states like Colorado and Washington where cannabis has been legal for a few years. The jobs are not declining, but increasing, and budtenders are nearly as common as bartenders in the Mile High City. But who is protecting the rights of these workers, and what standards exist to ensure that workers in dispensaries, grow managers and specialists, and sales representatives are participating in the best industry practices, following the ever-changing laws, and obtaining the proper education? Salaries vary widely in the industry, and benefits may not exist at all, except in the form of a cannabis product discount for employees. To be fair, many new companies are offering exemplary benefits to employees in higher-paid positions, but in any industry, unions can help look out for workers who many not have these benefits or feel secure in their positions.

What is a Union?

According to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO a union is any organized group of workers who collectively use their voices to makes change in their workplace. In a new industry, such as the cannabis industry, unions can be particularly important because they help define the needed and required worker abilities, as well as the roles and requirements of industry employers. Unions can help workers manage wage issues, work hours, benefits, workplace safety, job training initiatives, and other issues. United States law allows workers of all ages the right to join a union if they so desire, and ensure respect and fairness in the workplace. If you like your vacation time, limited work hours, weekends off, safety precautions your employer takes, and wage increases, you can thank unions for that. The AFL-CIO has helped create minimum wage, social security, overtime pay, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Unions prevent employers from requesting unfair or unlawful work from their employees; in addition, union workers’ wages are up to 30% higher that nonunion workers’ wages. Benefits and pensions are more common and more generous among union workers, as well.

Do Unions Exist for Cannabis Industry Workers?

I am happy to report that there are unions for cannabis industry workers, and wanted to share this information in case you work in the industry and didn’t know this. Membership in a union can help guarantee that you are paid a fair wage and receive adequate benefits, time off, and vacation or personal time. In 2010, the Teamsters Local 70 Union in Oakland signed up 40 new members of the Marjyn Investments, LLC company, making it the first US cannabis company to become unionized. Cannabis Workers Rising (CWR) is “a voice for workers in the medical marijuana retail industry,” which is committed to raising standards and “professional stature” for marijuana and hemp workers of all types. It is a part of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. CWR is helping to ensure better training for workers, less turnover in cannabis industry jobs, better pay, and increased benefits. According to UFCW and CWR, Colorado currently has two union cannabis stores: MMJ America on Broadway, and Local Product of Colorado, on W. 13th in Denver. If you work in the cannabis industry, you can fill out this form to start organizing your dispensary or organization. Other members of UFCW include Bhang Chocolate in Oakland, CA, which has gained wage increases, employer health care contributions, and paid sick leave and vacation. Wouldn’t you like to have these benefits?

United Cannabis Workers (UCW) is another organization beginning to unionize, and is an independent workers union, meaning that is made up of small business owners, self-employed workers, and workers of small businesses. UCW is committed to increasing the benefits of all workers in the industry, helping cannabis workers elevate their benefits to the level of other comparable industries. The company has recently begun offering health and dental benefits to members in California, and hopes to cover workers in other states soon. The AFWC is an older, more reliable organization if you are thinking of joining a union or unionizing your place of work.

Issues with Unionizing Cannabis Industry Organizations & Businesses

The main issues surrounding cannabis industry unionization are the federal vs. state level laws regarding these businesses. It’s difficult to make union laws in an industry that is at once illegal and legal in the United States. Another important part of unionizing cannabis businesses would be to help regulate product THC levels and ensure product safety – an issue that has been rising to the top of the public consciousness in legalized states. According to Jeff Ferro, head of the Cannabis Workers Rising campaign for UFCW, the unionization of the cannabis industry is “a tsunami,” and can’t be prevented. As of November 10th, 2015, 250 Bay Area cannabis workers in 12 to 15 local businesses belonged to UFCW. The employers in the cannabis industry, stated Ferro, “are just like any other industry. Some of them are going to try to cut corners – whether it’s to not pay well or not provide healthcare, they’re going to try to do it.” Debbie Goldsberry lost her job at a dispensary, and the UFCW helped her find a new contracted job at Magnolia Wellness in Oakland (a union business), and also obtained healthcare benefits for her family and herself. Goldsberry cited at-will employment as a major risk for workers in the industry. Oaksterdam University’s Sky Jones stated that despite initial employee reluctance to become unionized, “[w]e had more protections with the unions, not less.” Ferro also noted that unions can help with the health and safety problems that have plagued the industry as of late, regulating THC and processes within grow operations and cannabis businesses to the benefit of workers, employers, and consumers. Bottom line: if you work in the industry, the UFCW can help you stabilize your job and obtain more benefits, safety, and security in your position. Cannabis industry employers can retain and hire qualified workers and reduce their turnover rates, as well.

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