On January 6, workers at a medical cannabis company in St. Louis, Missouri, filed a petition for what would reportedly be the state’s first cannabis union election. They’re poised to join a growing unionized cannabis workforce across the country.
Missouri passed medical marijuana legislation back in 2018. On January 6 this year, six employees of the company Swade Cannabis, which operates multiple dispensaries around St. Louis, submitted an election petition to company management and to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The proposed bargaining unit would be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 655. The UFCW represents the most cannabis workers of any union in the United States—about 10,000 individuals.
Collin Reischman, director of communications for UFCW Local 655, told Filter that one of the union’s roles is to help the workers hold the election after they themselves express interest. The NLRB will meanwhile coordinate with all parties to set an election date.
In a statement provided to Filter through Swade Cannabis, Director of Dispensary Operations Jack Haddox said that the company “will not stand in the way of unionization efforts.”
UFCW will additionally be speaking with workers about what joining a union entails, as well as helping the bargaining unit draft its first contract. Reischman described the Swade Cannabis workers’ biggest concerns as fair compensation, job stability and COVID-19 safety in the workplace.
“They’re assuming a lot of risk. So first and foremost they need to be compensated fairly for that risk.”
“These individuals are working directly with patients in a relatively new industry in Missouri, trying to make sure they’re compliant with the law and following rules and regulations, and they’re assuming a lot of risk,” he said. “So first and foremost they need to be compensated fairly for that risk.”
He noted that Swade Cannabis is growing fast, raising investment money and expanding throughout the state. “Those workers have said, ‘We were some of the first to work for you. We feel as though we should be compensated—especially if you are growing.’”
Several fully-legalized states, including California, Connecticut and New York, require some or all cannabis businesses to promise not to interfere in union organizing—or “labor peace” agreements, as they’re known. Illinois and New Jersey offer incentives for employers to sign labor peace agreements. More states may follow this trend. After a Rhode Island cannabis dispensary illegally fired a worker in retaliation for organizing, the workers and their local UFCW chapter helped get him his job back.
In Virginia, however, Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin is trying to undermine labor peace provisions passed under Governor Ralph Northam.
He hopes that Swade Cannabis will keep its promise by remaining neutral and avoiding union-busting tactics.
Missouri does not require cannabis companies to enter into labor peace agreements—a position which could result in less scrutiny of private employers who interfere in union activity.
Reischman said he hopes that Swade Cannabis will keep its promise by remaining neutral and avoiding union-busting tactics to intimidate or coerce workers out of organizing. UFCW Local 655 and Swade have not yet communicated directly, and Reischman did not wish to predict how the company will behave going forward.
Photograph of UFCW Local 655 members via Facebook