Unionization Efforts Spreading Throughout The Cannabis Industry
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With the cannabis industry’s growth into a multi-billion
dollar industry, employing about 321,000 individuals, comes the
intensification of focus from unions viewing the industry as a
large growth opportunity. Much of the union organizing to
date has been led by the United Food and Commercial Workers
International Union, which launched a cannabis organizing campaign
Since October 2020, efforts to unionize
workers in the cannabis industry kicked into overdrive. Ten
cannabis facility workers voted to unionize in those five months
throughout the country in Rhode Island, California, DC,
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Illinois.
This past month in Chicago, 40 employees at Sunnyside Cannabis
Dispensary in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood became the first
dispensary workers in Illinois to ratify a union contract.
Additionally the state’s first cannabis union contract was
ratified in December by more than 180 workers at the Cresco Labs
cultivation center in Joliet.
Also in February, in Denver, workers at TweedLeaf’s cultivation
warehouse asked the NLRB to recognize their union certification
vote with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco, and Grain Millers
Union Local 26 chapter. This would be Colorado’s first
marijuana workers’ union.
One possible cause of the increase in unionization efforts could
be the COVID-19 pandemic. A dispensary employee in
Massachusetts told Marijuana Business Daily that
workers want more input in company decisions concerning the
response to the elevated risk levels associated with working during
the pandemic. And a TweedLeaf employee in Colorado
told Westword that they have “a lot of
safety issues” including running out of PPE.
Another factor could be that cannabis is a new, emerging
industry without much history in union membership. Only about
1% of Illinois’ cannabis workers are members of a union, while
overall 14.3% of workers in Illinois are union members.
Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told
the Chicago Tribune that this could be the start
of a surge in union membership, comparing the state of cannabis
unionization to the auto industry after the United Auto Workers
signed its first labor contract in 1937. Once the employees
in the cannabis industry see successful unionization efforts
throughout the country, this could have a cascading effect.
With the assumed labor-friendly approach from the Biden
administration, attempts at unionization in the cannabis industry
are only expected to increase. Employers should listen for
possible unionization efforts in their workplace and consult with
counsel on maintaining a union-free work environment.
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