A worker at Green Thumb Industries (CSE: GTII) (OTCQX: GTBIF) who died while on the job Friday has been identified as 60-year-old Julie Devinney, whose sudden passing prompted a call for reform and unionization at the business from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Devinney, a part-time worker for the past three years at the GTI production facility in Rock Island, Illinois, collapsed Friday during a pre-shift exercise, WeedWeek reported. She started “gasping for air,” per a police report the news outlet obtained. Although her coworkers tried CPR, and called for an ambulance, she was declared dead at the scene.
Devinney had developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and “severe breathing problems,” the police report stated, and the fire department had been called multiple times in the past year “due to Julie not being able to breathe.”
Her supervisor, Amy Hermiston, was “advised that Julie was often transported to the hospital for these issues,” and she had to leave work early on many occasions due to her breathing issues, including on the day before she died, according to the police report.
Devinney’s situation was advanced enough that she carried an inhaler and nitroglycerin in her purse, medicines often used to treat coronary artery disease, WeedWeek reported.
The deputy county coroner has determined that Devinney died from natural causes, but the Teamsters said that the situation demands more action by GTI to protect employees, particularly given that this is the second death at a cannabis production facility within 18 months.
The first was 27-year-old Lorna McMurrey, a worker at a Trulieve marijuana grow in Massachusetts who died in January 2022 due to a breathing problem that was attributed to the “hazards of ground cannabis dust,” an initial report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found.
“There have been significant concerns about occupational hazards at this operation – particularly regarding respiratory health – in the past,” Jim Glimco, President of Teamsters Local 777, said in a release. “We also know that those concerns haven’t always been adequately addressed when brought to the attention of higher-ups. GTI needs to take drastic and immediate action to address the safety concerns of its workforce.”
The GTI facility where Devinney worked was not unionized, WeedWeek reported previously, but the Teamsters have faced off against GTI multiple times in the past at dispensaries owned by the Chicago-based multistate operator. GTI is still facing several federal labor complaints filed by the Teamsters, and the union said Devinney’s death further highlights “a consistent lack of respect” for its workers, and called for the company to allow the Rock Island employees to organize.
The Teamsters also took a shot at GTI over a WeedWeek report that one of the workers at the Rock Island factory was threatened after he posted information about Devinney’s death on social media and said it fits a pattern of how it’s “egregiously violated federal law” in the past during union organizing drives.
Magen Townsend, a former GTI worker turned Teamsters organizer, said in the release that while she worked at the Rock Island grow, she and “many others … had serious safety concerns that weren’t addressed.”
“Lack of air filtration, proper ventilation, and safety equipment were among our primary issues,” Townsend said. “GTI needs to be held accountable for refusing to acknowledge these serious concerns and putting workers at risk.”
In an email, a GTI spokeswoman wrote, “To the best of our knowledge, this tragic death was not related to the working environment. According to the police report, the Rock Island County Deputy Coroner conducted an investigation and determined the cause of death to be from natural causes.”
“The safety of our team is our top priority, and we regularly review working conditions to ensure we are adhering to the highest safety standards for our team,” the spokesperson wrote. “Results from air quality testing conducted to date have complied with all regulatory acceptable standards and we feel confident in the work environment and safety measures we have in place.”
Regarding the allegations from the Teamsters, GTI called it an “attempt to push their own agenda by instilling fear and uncertainty on top of the grief we all feel.”
“We are focused on supporting our team members and the family during this difficult time,” the spokesperson wrote.
There have also been at least two federal workplace safety complaints filed about the Rock Island facility with OSHA, WeedWeek previously reported and a total of four against the company nationwide.