Cannabis Companies Drive Growth In Retail Union Organizing

Cannabis companies accounted for 62% of the gains made in retail unionization between 2019 and 2021.

After declining in recent years, unions appear to be making a comeback – and a large contributor is the cannabis industry, according to a report from Weedmaps.

Retail operations, in particular, have seen a resurgence in interest in unions, in large part due to the “essential” designation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers at companies like Amazon and Starbucks started banding together to leverage collective bargaining with this new recognition of their role in the U.S. economy.

Many corporations were not nearly as keen on this as the workers. For example, Amazon appealed the union vote won by workers at its Staten Island, New York, facility to the National Labor Relations Board. That appeal was rejected this week.

While the embrace is broad, cannabis companies accounted for 62% of retail union win gains between 2019 and 2021, according to analysis of NLRB union votes done by Bloomberg Law.

bar chart detailing the growth of retail unions with callout to cannabis unions

This is significant, in part, because the cannabis industry is still getting started, with employment growth expected to be vast over the next five years, especially if efforts for federal legalization come to fruition.

New Frontier data estimates that cannabis employment would exceed 1.6 million by 2025 if that happens. That’s roughly equivalent to the number of engineers in the U.S. in 2021, the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Does Unionizing Mean For The Cannabis Industry?

Organizers often tout the advantages of unions on wages and benefits, as well as safety provisions. But the cannabis industry could see additional positives due to its nascent nature, according to the Weedmaps report.

“It also plays a significant role in ‘professionalizing’ the nascent cannabis industry and the image of the people working within it, whether they carry a union membership card or not,” the report said. “Unionization enhances the cannabis workplace as a legitimate business that is part of a multibillion-dollar sector of the American economy.”

Over the last decade, the United Food and Commercial Workers union has been actively trying to recruit members of the cannabis industry through its “Cannabis Workers Rising” campaign. The Teamsters have also been actively involved.

To date, most of the activity around unionization has been focused in California, Illinois and in the Northeast, places where unions have solid histories to begin with.

Jenel Stelton-Holtmeier


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