Unions in the workplace is a trending topic in the news right now, and this does not exclude the cannabis industry. The last CannaCon post on this topic from late December 2020 covered the Cannabis Workers Union and others — a lot has happened since then. An August 2021 Gallup poll revealed support for labor unions is at the highest point (68%) in the United States since 1965. Additionally, the National Labor Relations (NLRB) reported a 58% increase of union election petitions, up to 1,892 from 1,197 in the first three-quarters of the fiscal year. Are we on the brink of more cannabis union formations? What’s the potential for weed union growth? Let’s take a closer look at cannabis unions.
A report released in September 2021 by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that unionization is key to confirming new jobs created within the fast-growing cannabis industry were better paying, safer, and more likely to provide benefits such as health care, paid leave, and fair scheduling.
The report also found that Labor Peace Agreements (LPAs) between companies and workers in the industry successfully protected the right of cannabis workers to unionize while supporting greater alignment between businesses and workers. This, in turn, led to increased job quality and pay standards for all workers, particularly those of color, in addition to increased safety for customers and workers. While policy discussions around equity in the emerging cannabis industry have focused on investment and entrepreneurial opportunities via business licensing, very little attention has been paid to equity in cannabis industry jobs. Many suggest that as reason enough to embrace cannabis unions.
Key findings from the EPI report on cannabis workers include:
- LPAs have proven successful in protecting workers’ rights to organize in the six states with statutes encouraging or requiring LPAs for licensed medical and/or recreational cannabis businesses. These states are California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. LPAs prevent union busting by employers in exchange for a worker pledge not to strike.
- Cannabis workers can make more than their non-cannabis union counterparts in similar jobs. Potential annual wages for retail is $2,810, processing is $8,690, and cultivation is $7,030.
- Cannabis workers of color earn up to 32% more from unionization than non-cannabis union workers of color.
Active Cannabis Unions
Modern Cannabis dispensary employee Alex Suarez has worked at the Chicago site since February 2021; within a few months, she and her co-workers voted to unionize. Their first cannabis union contract was ratified in March 2022 and permits customers to tip workers plus guarantees annual raises, seniority rights and 40 hours a week for full-time staff.
“We’re trying to make these careers for the long term, not just one that is a turnover establishment,” said Suarez. “I think the upswing in organization in this country right now is astonishing and we need to keep going over that energy.”
According to this source, many dispensaries in Chicago are unionizing. In 2022, the state of Illinois has topped more than $1 billion in cannabis sales as of the end of August.
In April 2022, Teamsters Local 1932, a labor union of more than 14,000 cannabis teamsters in Southern California’s Inland Empire region, announced the availability of 20 scholarships for a new cannabis cultivation training certification program based out of the union’s new San Bernardino training center. In 2021, California Teamsters committed $1.5 million to support legislative efforts to improve the cannabis workforce issues and cannabis rescheduling. The five-week training certification program scholarships align with the weed union’s goals for the industry.
In Canada, union activism has come in the form of worker strikes. One Quebec cannabis union has caused store closures, while another similarly-located weed union ended its recent strike after negotiations. The efforts here are not quite the same level as in the United States, according to David Camfield, an associate professor of labor studies and sociology at the University of Manitoba.
“We haven’t seen the same level of workers taking things into their own hands in Canada as we have seen in the U.S.” That said, Camfield has observed a shift within the overall retail sector.
“Purely anecdotally, I do get the sense that there are more retail workers in Canada unionizing in the last little while,” he said, adding that data is limited.
As the topic of weed unions is both universal to business and highly specialized, it’s easiest to gather information and options in a consolidated place. CannaCon is the perfect place to connect with cannabis businesses on the forefront of the industry.
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