As the legalization of marijuana expands, so has the unionization of "budtenders" behind the counter and in all other areas of the cannabis business. For example, the UFCW (United International Food and Commercial Workers Union) is the Cannabis Workers’ Union and has local union offices across the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Canada. According to its website, through its “innovative Cannabis Workers Rising campaign,” it represents “tens of thousands of cannabis workers across the US in dispensaries, labs, delivery, kitchens, manufacturing, processing, grow facilities and more.” It’s purpose is to help “[w]orkers secure better wages, protection from unfair discipline, and great benefits with a union contract.
UFCW tells its audience it “fights for,” among other things: better wages and benefits (including built-in pay increases at a certain amount and at certain times), work-life balance, fair scheduling and leave, affordable health care, the right to retire and ‘good citizenship.’”
President of UFCW, Anthony “Marc” Parrone, President of UFCW, has stated: “Wherever there are cannabis workers interested in organizing, UFCW is ready to fight for them and build a safer, more inclusive industry together." Cannabis workers range from processors, budtenders, chefs, and lab workers to cultivators and delivery personnel. As such, the UFCW International sees their "Cannabis Organizing" campaign as multi-pronged. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is another union seeking to organize cannabis workers throughout the nation.
Many of the cannabis-business goals of these unions are noble and should be pursed, including: erasing the stigma around cannabis, particularly in communities of color; increasing the number of minority cannabis dispensary license holders; and, leveling the equity playing field in a rapidly growing industry. Other goals should be a primary focus of all employers, regardless of their industry. These include, among other things, racial diversity, equality and inclusion, safe working conditions, and overall better working conditions.
The effect of unionizing on small businesses, however, could be debilitating. Unions are notoriously responsible for raising the cost of labor by raising wages above market rates, negotiating expensive benefits packages and paid time off beyond legal requirements. Having a unionized workforce also essentially eliminates and employers right to “at-will employment,” meaning an employer can terminate an employee’s job at any time for any legal reason, with or without notice. Instead, operations will be controlled by a very detailed, and often inflexible, collective bargaining agreement.
So, while cannabis businesses continue to “grow,” it is imperative that new entrepreneurs realize that the unions have their sights on your businesses and will likely be seeking to organize your employees. You must also understand that it is unlawful to interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights to unionize.
Accordingly, the best way to legally avoid organization is to keep your employees from being independently interested in unionizing. To do that, you must voluntarily provide to your employees the benefits the union would seek to provide: safe working conditions; equal opportunities regardless of any protected status including race, gender, ethnicity; competitive wages and benefits; and overall good working conditions. These should be factored into your business plans from the start and pursued daily in the workplace. Do not threaten employees interested in unionizing, retaliate against employees interested in unionizing or otherwise interfere in efforts to unionize. Instead, keep your employees happy without the need of the union. If you do this, it is possible your employees will not see the benefit of unionizing, including having to pay union dues, and deny any efforts to organize.