Pubdate: Tue, 06 Oct 2015
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2015 Statesman Journal
Author: Gordon Friedman


At least two collective bargaining contracts between Oregon cannabis 
workers and the dispensaries that employ them have been signed, and 
more are expected to partake in collective bargaining as the industry develops.

The move to unionize by some cannabis workers strengthens the role 
unions have historically held in negotiating workplace conditions for 
their members, as labor unions enter a brand new market.

And the trend is expected to grow: As many as 50 Oregon cannabis 
businesses have expressed interest in unionizing to the United Food 
and Commercial Workers Local 555. The union represents more than 
20,000 retail and manufacturing workers in Oregon and Washington.

The UFCW is one of the largest unions in the nation, with more than 
1.3 million members in the U.S. and Canada. It has already begun 
representing cannabis workers in Washington, who signed a collective 
bargaining agreement in June.

Cannabis workers first unionized in Oregon this July, when three 
employees at Portland's Stoney Brothers dispensary, now known as Hi 
Casual Cannabis, signed a collective bargaining contract with UFCW Local 555.

UFCW Local 555 is also representing two employees at the West Salem 
Cannabis dispensary who ratified a collective bargaining agreement in 

Margo Lucas, the dispensary's owner, said she's "thrilled" about the contract.

West Salem Cannabis is also a member of Union Cannabis, an employer's 
association promoting union-made products from more than 40 cannabis 
businesses in six states.

Lucas, who is also employed by the UFCW Local 555 as a cannabis 
organizer, said there are great opportunities ahead for Oregon's 
cannabis businesses, and she wants the state to set an example for 
the industry.

Although she didn't disclose the specific terms of West Salem 
Cannabis' contract, it's likely that it reflects the one UFCW signed 
with Stoney Brothers.

In that agreement, wages were guaranteed between $15 and $34 an hour. 
Other provisions included regular raises, health care, retirement 
options, and provisions for employee safety.

Dan Clay, UFCW Local 555's president, said those guarantees are 
essential because the cannabis industry is fundamentally different 
from other markets.

"Federal law doesn't protect those workers like it would regular 
workers in a retail store or a plant because the feds don't recognize 
cannabis as legal. They're not enforcing things like minimum wage or 
any hours laws or even in many cases workers' compensation laws," he said.

Lucas said she hopes other cannabis businesses around the state will 
unionize as the economy develops, securing commonplace employee 
protections. She said unionizing is a step towards legitimizing 
Oregon's marijuana economy, which she believes will one day grow into 
a major cannabis exporter.

"We can build the economy from the ground up by having good paying 
jobs," she said. "It's one thing to say that you're going to treat 
your employees right, but it's another to commit to it."

Businesses making those contractual commitments are an indicator of 
the cannabis industry's trajectory towards a more mature market, 
according to Lance Compa, a senior lecturer at Cornell University's 
School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Compa said collective bargaining by cannabis workers isn't a 
surprise, but it's coming years sooner than usual, as it can take 
decades for an industry to explore unionizing.

"That was the story of the auto industry. The industry started in the 
early 20th century and it took 30 or 40 years before employees said, 
'Wait a minute, this is my career. I need to fight for some 
protection,'" he said.

But in contemporary emerging markets, workers are organizing unions 
more quickly.

"In these new sectors, it's being telescoped into a matter of months 
or one or two years."

Compa said developing businesses like the new-media company Gawker, 
or groups of bicycle mechanics in Washington, D.C., are "new age" 
markets that have also started collective bargaining shortly after formation.

Unionization can be a tough pill for private-sector employers to 
swallow, but Compa said a bit of tension is normal because employers 
and employees alike want to maximize their pay.

"But you have to go through the crucible of collective bargaining to 
understand that nobody gets 100 percent of what they're proposing," he said.

Employers and employees may soon learn more about the realities of 
collective bargaining, as Clay predicts 40 or more Oregon cannabis 
businesses will unionize in the next 18 months.

In the meantime, Lucas is expanding her grow operation. She'll be 
adding at least six employees, and hopes to unionize them all.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom