With staggering sales revenues and the recent approval of 73 new state dispensaries comes a related development in Ohio’s medical marijuana program: the first cannabis worker’s unions. Workers at Sunnyside Dispensary in Cincinnati and Herbology Dispensary in Newark will vote to organize unions in 2022 through The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW).
What Is A Union?
A union is an organization of employees seeking collective bargaining with their employer. By joining together as a single bargaining unit, workers are able to leverage their work against the company’s profits in order to ensure protections such as fair pay, workplace safety, affordable health care, etc. under a legally binding contract with the employer.
Which Union Organizes Cannabis Workers?
The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) is America’s largest cannabis workers union, with over 10,000 cannabis members nationwide. The UFCW works to advance state legislation with Labor Peace Agreements in efforts to create high-quality, better paying cannabis jobs. The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States. UFCW often joins with community groups to resolve issues of local concern, from funding community improvement projects to supporting fellow workers in labor disputes.
UFCW LOCAL 1059: Herbology in Newark, Ohio (now owned by Curaleaf)
For decades, UFCW Local 1059 has worked to support workers in Ohio. In 2006, they gathered signatures so Ohio’s workers could finally get the fair raise in the state minimum wage that they deserved. In 2011, members were part of a successful effort to protect firefighters, police officers, and teachers by repealing Senate Bill 5.
UFCW Local 1059 President Randy Quickel welcomes the very first cannabis employees union to Ohio. He spoke of learning about Herbology’s hopes to organize. “It’s always better to be negotiating for people that really want to organize—and they do want to be organized,” he said. “It’s always good to represent people and give them the attention that we have in our capacity to do negotiations. Collective bargaining is one of the great things about being in a union.”
Quickel added that cannabis patients who visit a dispensary are always served better when the employees working there are happy and feel recognized in their workplace. “If your workplace is not good, if it puts you in a foul mood, it’s not going to help the customer that comes in. Of the unionized workers, Quickel said, “Everybody should strive to have happiness in your life and be recognized. When good working conditions occur, that transfers to the customer coming in as well.”
How It All Started
UFCW LOCAL 1059’s Anthony Bridges described how he heard the concerns of employees at Herbology in the wake of being bought out by multi-state operator Curaleaf. “This kicked off back in March ,” he explained. “The employees were wanting to have the opportunity to be able to negotiate better wages, access to affordable health care, to be able to have some job security. Just really wanting to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Bridges noted that employees who started with Herbology before Curaleaf overtook operations expressed concerns about having their seniority count for something, because they just didn’t feel as though it did. “They talked about wanting to be able to achieve better through collective bargaining,” Bridges added.
“It’s courageous for this group of people in regards to the Newark facility to step out and do something new. And hopefully they blazed the trail for others to follow,” noted UFCW Local 1059’s President Quickel. He also encouraged cannabis workers who want to learn more about unionizing at their dispensary can reach out to organizer Anthony Bridges.
UFCW Local 75 Sunnyside in Cincinnati OH, now owned by Cresco Labs
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 75 is a union of 30,000 people working in supermarkets, drug stores, food processing and packing plants, and health care facilities in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. According to their website, UFCW Local 75 is a community-based union dedicated to the economic and social well being of members, the growth and advancement of the labor movement, and the promotion and practice of union and political democracy. They work to attain contracts with livable wages, affordable benefits, and job security providing better lives for members and their families.
Bill Benner, union representative for UFCW Local 75, explained why he believes the cannabis industry can benefit from unions. “I think as an emerging industry, we keep hearing about the new green gold rush. And while there are a lot of people profiting off of this emerging industry, especially here in Ohio, and in the medical space specifically— the workers are often being left behind and feel powerless in the workplace.”
Benner speaks to why Sunnyside workers came together to unionize as they’ve seen a larger company (Cresco) buy out their smaller company (Verdant Creations). “They’re just seeing a lot of decisions being made without any voice in that process and don’t really have any power at work to determine how things happen or what happens or push back when they see things that are happening that they disagree with.”
He continued: “Most of these folks got into this industry because they care about people and want to help patients, especially here in Ohio’s Medical Marijuana program and certainly here at Sunnyside. But they feel powerless in being able to have any kind of role in how that is done and really kind of being left behind by those that may be in it to just make money off of the industry.”
What Benefits Will UFCW Workers Enjoy?
Benner explains, “For starters, they get the benefit of a legal binding union contract, and that’s one of the most important benefits. It would include a grievance procedure for them to help resolve any disputes that arise at work, other than just hoping they’re dealt with by management or HR. As well as just being able to negotiate over wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.
So whether that’s their scheduling, seniority rights, or other things like that, they get the benefit of that union contract. We as a union family offer a lot of other benefits to our members, whether it’s discounts on the lights at the zoo for Christmas, or some of our other member events. We’ve got free college programs and educational courses, even a free two year program specific to cannabis. I think some of those benefits speak for themselves. By far though, the biggest benefit is being able to negotiate over wages, benefits, terms and conditions of employment with their employer, and then having that in a legal binding contract.”
What Drawbacks are there to Unions?
More than 60 unions represent over 14 million workers in the U.S. However, unionizing is not right for every company and for every worker. Some unions may be viewed as pitting workers against companies instead of working together with the company. For management, this dynamic can sometimes hurt the culture of a workplace.
Furthermore, unions may advocate for changes in the workplace that don’t necessarily benefit all employees. They might also advocate for certain benefits over others that aren’t of the utmost priority for some workers who’d rather push for different changes. Because it’s a group effort with unions, advocacy is done on behalf of the majority, not the individuals.
How Other Dispensary Workers Can Consider Unionizing
Cannabis workers who want to learn more about unionizing at their dispensary can reach out to organizer Anthony Bridges directly at 614-357-9337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Medicate OH’s Founder and Publisher is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public administration, both from Northern Kentucky University. She has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries, including positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop.
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