Unions are High on the Marijuana Industry

As legalized marijuana sweeps the country, unions are desperately trying to organize everyone from the grower to the seller. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union which has 1.3 million members across multiple fields from grocery store workers to meatpackers are on the forefront of the movement. UFCW already claims tens of thousands of cannabis workers across the U.S in its Cannabis Workers Rising division.


For example, Seattle-based dispensary chain Have a Heart signed Washington state’s first collective bargaining agreement between a recreational cannabis shop and a union in 2018. The same happened in Minnesota in 2017 and New York in 2016 for medical marijuana. Most recently, Have a Heart employees in Oregon joined the UFCW Local 555. The Oregon collective bargaining agreement covers employees are a current Salem store and any future Oregon locations where a majority sign union cards. This is a huge win for the UFCW. The UFCW prioritizes cannabis workers operating in safe conditions, having a sense of job security, and being paid a fair wage. These priorities are reflected in the Oregon contract that: sets wages at $15.30 an hour for budtenders and $16.30 for lead shop workers; provides all workers with health and pension benefits through trusts sponsored by the UFCW; holiday pay, paid time off, bonuses; and standard union disciplinary rights. A labor-management safety committee was also established, and the store will display a union shop card and sell union-labeled cannabis products.


If you think Have a Heart’s union contract looks like a legitimate union contract of larger, more established companies, you’re right, it does. Have a Heart recently announced $25M in venture capital funding and is expanding rapidly with 16 locations in 6 states with 18 pending applications in 5 additional states. Marijuana is big business and unions salivate at organizing big businesses.


In addition to the UFCW, the Teamsters are trying to organize the industry’s supply chain beginning with cultivators. The United Farm Workers of America (UFW) is also considering “engaging workers in a number of key cultivation regions” given that a bulk of their licensed grow sites in California are in regions where UFW already have a strong presence and deep history.


The Teamsters and UFW may have a difficult time infiltrating the marijuana industry. UFCW 770 has a stranglehold on southern California where it has organized the cannabis supply chain. It has amassed 700 cannabis union members from Santa Barbara through the South Bay working with retail, cultivation, manufacturing, and delivery.


In my experience, despite the perception that cannabis business owners might be cool, easy going hippies that would obviously be on board with a unionized workforce, many players have corporate investors who might be determined to keep labor costs down. Union avoidance training is commonplace among those companies. While the UFCW may have gotten out ahead of widespread anti-union sentiments throughout the marijuana industry, it will unlikely continue to grow unfettered at this rate into the future.


Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.