Dispensary labor action setting precedent in cannabis industry

cannabis labor actions: Photo of person holding megaphone in front of protest

Green Thumb Industries (GTI), the parent company of Rise dispensaries, may be forced to raise wages by 50 percent for workers at three Rise dispensary locations following the end of a 13-day strike. According to The Chicago Tribune, the strike ignited over disagreement on wages and retirement.

Matt McQuaid, Communications Project Manager for Teamsters Department of Strategic Initiatives, commented on the strike ending to GreenState, “We hope that the employer has come to their senses and is willing to grant the workers a collective bargaining agreement that reflects the fact that it is the rank-and-file workers – not the shareholders or c-suite – who are responsible for the fact that GTI made over $1 Billion last year.”

Union negotiations started in June 2022 after Rise employees from Juliet and Niles, IL stores voted to join Teamsters Local 777. However, negotiations recently began to unravel after GTI management asked workers to remove Teamster buttons while negotiating.

“The forceful removal of these buttons shows us how GTI feels about our movement and how little they care about us as workers,” Julie Evans, a patient care specialist at a Rise dispensary in Joliet, said in a press release obtained by GreenState.

Since the strike began, Teamsters claim that the major multi-state operator raised wages by 50 percent to retain employees as reported by the Teamsters–returning workers are demanding the increase be permanent.

“We’re looking forward to seeing these raises in writing and also getting back to our customers and patients,” Heather Alvarado, a cannabis worker at the Rise Niles location, said in the press release issued by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The release also asserts that the company committed unfair labor practices (ULPs) during the labor action. Teamsters allege that GTI promised promotions for abstaining from the strike, asked workers to remove teamster buttons while negotiating, and unlawfully surveilled picket lines.GTI denies involvement in ULPs, asserting that the company as continued to follow all labor laws.

“Green Thumb did not offer a wage increase to end the strike or pay employees to cross the picket line,” a GTI Spokesperson disclosed to GreenState through a public relations representative, “We continue to be deeply disappointed by the misinformation and self-serving guidance that the Teamsters Union is providing to our employees. We remain available and committed to working toward an agreement.”

As Illinois negotiations come to a close, new action is cropping up in Massachusetts

Ascend cannabis dispensary workers in Boston, MA filed a charge against the multi-state operator at the end of April. The employees unionized with Teamsters Local 25 by mail-in ballot in August 2022 but have yet to sign a contract with the company.

The case, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, cites allegations of “Coercive actions (Surveillance, etc.)” and “Change in terms and condition of employment.”

Influencer Erica Ricky Blaze interviewed an unnamed person on the picket line who alleged the company stole tips, doesn’t allow workers to take legal breaks, and fired employees for union-protected activity. However, this information has yet to be confirmed; GreenState reached out to the Ascend several times via email over the last two days and Ascend did not reply.

Labor organization success on the West Coast

Los Angeles employees of Sweet Flower dispensaries are celebrating after ratifying their first union contract earlier this month as members of The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770.

“Our contract guarantees fairness and equity in the workplace, and ensures Sweet Flower will remain a great place to work,” Helen Fiegenschie, a Sweet Flower florist, said in a press release from the UFCW.

The three-year contract guarantees employer contributions for the health and welfare of full-time employees, paid holidays and community volunteer hours, and paid vacations for senior staff. It also establishes wage increases and raises the wage floor.

Following the signature of the contract, Sweet Flower and UFCW 770 will enter a partnership to open lines of communication between workers and the company and establish a pathway for employees at newly opened Sweet Flower locations to choose UFCW representation.

These movements in Illinois, Massachusetts, and California are setting precedent as some of the first labor actions from cannabis workers.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.