While traditionally, businesses and labor unions are viewed as being at odds, recent developments in the burgeoning cannabis industry suggest that collaboration might be more beneficial than confrontation. Executives and union leaders alike have pointed to shared goals and mutual benefits.
Lauren Carpenter, CEO of Embarc, a cannabis retail chain in California, is one of those executives who believe that a cooperative relationship with unions can enhance business success. Embarc has signed contracts with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) for two of its stores and expects to seal another deal soon. The UFCW, along with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, have been active in organizing cannabis workers. Their efforts cover a wide range of roles within the cannabis sector, including growers, trimmers, delivery drivers, and retail employees.
Jim Araby, the UFCW’s director of strategic campaigns, emphasizes that the union and the businesses it collaborates with have overlapping objectives. Joint ventures on training programs, retirement benefits, and ensuring better health and safety standards are only a few ways they work in tandem.
Furthermore, Araby highlighted the advantages of a regulated marijuana market over an illicit one, emphasizing the protections such markets offer to workers. These benefits range from prevention of wage theft to the avoidance of abusive working conditions.
Gaining Expertise and Insights
For operators like Carpenter, partnering with a union like the UFCW provides invaluable insights, especially regarding conflict resolution and labor law. Given the nascent state of the legal cannabis market, having seasoned experts at the table can make a significant difference.
Lobbying and Advocacy
Historically, labor unions have had a significant influence on legislative processes. In states like California, they have played critical roles in shaping the rules governing the cannabis industry. Such influence is further evident in states requiring cannabis businesses to sign labor peace agreements (LPAs), giving unions the right to converse with employees about union membership without interference.
Resolving Worker Disputes
Beyond their lobbying efforts, unions can also assist cannabis operators in resolving internal disputes. Carpenter cited instances where the UFCW played a constructive role in mediating conflicts between employees and management, ensuring that matters were settled amicably.
Safety and Training
Araby and Carpenter both stressed the significance of setting high standards in the industry. Unions have extensive experience in developing training and apprenticeship programs, ensuring workers are well-equipped for their roles and aware of safety protocols.
The Bottom Line
Collaboration between unions and cannabis operators is not just a theoretical idea – it’s a practical one with tangible benefits. It presents a departure from the traditional adversarial relationship between businesses and unions, highlighting that cooperative partnerships can drive the cannabis industry forward.
Businesses in the cannabis sector, including the ones selling smoking accessories, need to weigh their options: invest in building a robust, well-trained workforce with the help of unions or expend resources on avoiding them. As the cannabis industry evolves, operators must decide where they want to place their bets for long-term success.