Unionizing Cannabis Workers, Another Sign of Mainstream Business

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Unions are eyeing the cannabis industry as it becomes clear that legal marijuana is not going away. Unions around the country have struggled building membership, but the potential of unionizing cannabis workers offers an opportunity to build ranks.

As the cannabis industry in California grows and roots itself into the economy, more employment disputes are likely to occur. With an expected $7 billion per year industry projected for California, the draw for cannabis workers to find support is likely to be strong.

The United Farm Workers, Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers are looking to unionize the tens of thousands of potential workers involved in the legal weed game, from planters to rollers to sellers. The move could provide a boost to organized labor’s lagging membership — if infighting doesn’t get in the way.

The United Farm Workers, co-founded by iconic labor leader Cesar Chavez, says that organizing an industry rooted in agriculture is a natural fit, and that growers could label their products with the union’s logo as a marketing strategy.

“If you’re a cannabis worker, the UFW wants to talk with you,” national Vice President Armando Elenes said.

But United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents grocery store employees, meat packers and retail workers, registered its intent to organize cannabis workers across the country.

“We would hope they respect our jurisdiction,” UFCW spokesman Jeff Ferro said.

Teamsters organizer Kristin Heidelbach said there’s no need for unions to battle each other. There will be plenty of workers needing representation as small cannabis businesses run by “happy stoner” types give way to large pharmaceutical corporations, she said.

The marijuana industry is currently run by relatively small businesses where employees tend to have more of an identity with their employers than the massive corporations that dominate the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries. Will unions end up playing a major role in the cannabis industry?

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