Vireo Health International, Inc. (CNSX: VREO)(OTCQX: VREOF) announced that workers at its wholly-owned subsidiary, MaryMed, LLC voted overwhelmingly to ratify a Collective Bargaining Agreement and officially join the ranks of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 (UFCW27).
The company said that the three-year agreement will be the first medical cannabis union contract ratified in the State of Maryland. The contract will cover employees working in Vireo’s 20,000 square-foot Hurlock, Maryland-based manufacturing facility, which supplies precisely formulated medical cannabis products to third-party dispensaries throughout the state.
“We are excited to welcome MaryMed employees into UFCW27,” said Jason Chorpenning, President of UFCW Local 27. “This contract is an important win for the future of all workers in the cannabis industry and I am very proud of the role that UFCW has played in helping to bring collective bargaining to the cannabis industry. I want to thank our union bargaining committee led by Nelson Hill and Vireo Health for their hard work to create good-paying jobs for Maryland residents.”
The statement said that the contract provides employees with competitive starting wages, access to affordable and high-quality healthcare, guaranteed annual wage increases, and a generous paid time off program. It also includes comprehensive safety provisions and anti-discrimination language and establishes sound procedures for grievance and arbitration matters.
“As a ‘people-first’ business, Vireo is deeply committed to our employees and we are proud to be a union employer in Maryland and beyond,” said Kyle Kingsley, M.D., CEO of Vireo Health. “Our workforce is key to our company’s success and we look forward to partnering with UFCW to support legislation, such as legalizing adult-use cannabis, that will help create thousands of new middle-class jobs across Maryland.”
Maryland follows Massachusetts’ Sira Naturals, which announced in November that its workers would join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1445. That agreement covers 115 employees. At that time Sira Naturals’ founder and president, Michael Dundas said, “As the largest cannabis union in the country, we believe UFCW will be a strong partner in paving the way for a new generation of union agreements that reflect the importance of a strong and independent labor force in the cannabis industry.”
Both California and New York require cannabis companies to unionize their workers. In October, California Governor Newsom signed a law that said all cannabis stores would need a “labor peace agreement” when they reach 20 or more employees. New York also required its medical marijuana dispensaries to sign labor peace deals. The unions stepped in as New York was drafting the legalization of medical marijuana and insisted on being involved. They had the power to sink the legislation if they weren’t included.
Illinois said it will consider whether a business has signed such a labor contract when determining which shops can get a license.
The Teamsters have noted that since recreational marijuana is still considered to be federally illegal, cannabis workers can’t count on federal labor regulations to protect them. The group points out that some cannabis-related jobs, like trimming, are physically demanding and require hours of hard agricultural labor. In September 2010, Teamsters organized the country’s first group of unionized marijuana growers, following a May UFCW campaign that saw the retail union add 100 new members from Oakland’s medical marijuana dispensaries.
Teamsters organizer Kristin Heidelbach said, “So, our concern as Teamsters was representing these people —
not just from distribution, which is different in each state, but also from the people transporting the product, the growers, the trimmers, the dispensary workers and the manufacturers. It was really about taking what was an underground, illicit market and helping them understand what kind of protection they could have in a legitimate business that’s operated above-ground. It’s all about education as well, because this is helping people understand what they can and can’t do to their workers.”
United Cannabis Workers
There seems to be competing efforts to unionize works in the industry. In addition to the UFCW, there are the United Cannabis Workers (UCW) which is an organization that unionized as an independent workers union made up of small business owners, self-employed workers, and workers of small businesses. UCW sais it is committed to increasing the benefits of all workers in the industry by helping cannabis workers elevate their benefits to the level of other comparable industries. According to its website, UCW has created an Independent Workers Branch that was designed for everyone working in the industry which was well suited for anyone that doesn’t want the imposition of union rules regarding their employees.