Massachusetts Cannabis Workers Unionize

Massachusetts Cannabis Workers Unionize, Part of a National Movement

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, it’s running into the problems of any industry. Figuring out fair arrangements for businesses and workers. In most states, worker cultivating, processing and selling legal cannabis need special licensing, but there’s no standard. To make sure that workers’ views are represented, employees of Cresco Labs in Massachusetts recently signed their first contract as a union.

Journalist Umme Hoque wrote this article for Filter Magazine. It details the union effort.

Aiden Hunt, Editor
Reprinted with permission.

Filter is an online magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights through a harm reduction lens. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for its newsletter.

by Umme Hoque

Cannabis cultivation workers at Cresco Labs in Massachusetts have successfully negotiated their first union contract. The agreement is the latest in a series of organizing actions by cannabis workers across the country, including recently secured workplace contracts in Illinois, Pennsylvania and California.

“We’re seeing a big momentum in cannabis workers locally and across the country,” Sam Marvin, organizing director at United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 328, which helped Cresco Labs workers organize, told Filter. “Workers across the industry are coming together and securing an equitable future in a growing industry.”

Among the Cresco Labs union’s newly won protections are scheduling policies, employee discounts and a $1.50 hourly pay increase, with annual raises over the three-year contract.

“I am so proud of our hardworking team at Cresco for sticking together and securing this victory,” said union representative Molly Balbuena in a statement. “We are so excited to have secured the better future and collective voice we were looking for when we formed our union with UFCW.”

Cresco Labs is one of the largest US cannabis operators, with retail locations in nine states and cultivation centers across the country. Cresco employees in Chicago, as well as workers at other other Massachusetts cannabis companies, have previously secured union contracts.

Many cannabis cultivation workers share common challenges. They frequently lack a living wage, benefits (like health care and retirement plans) or pathways for professional development. Workers and advocates are concerned that the growth of many companies amid the nationwide cannabis boom is coming at the expense of underpaid employees, while corporation heads rake in profits.

“Workers have the opportunity to shape the industry.”

US cannabis sales hit $17.5 billion in 2020, an increase of nearly 50 percent from 2019. Retail sales in Massachusetts alone topped $1 billion in the two years after November 2018—when the state became the first on the East Coast to implement adult-use sales.

Cannabis workers themselves “will now dictate how the industry will look for working families,” Marvin said. “Workers have the opportunity to shape the industry and make sure the jobs are good, family-sustaining jobs with a living wage, affordable and quality health care and a secure retirement.”

UFCW is the most active union working with cannabis workers, organizing with them since 2013. It now has more than 10,000 members in working laboratories, processing and manufacturing plants, cultivation facilities and medical and adult-use dispensaries. 

The union is also building an apprenticeship program with cannabis employers, like Ocean State Cultivation Center and potentially Cresco Labs, to support the growth of sustainable jobs in the industry. The goal is to ensure employees have safe working environments as well as the skills and training they need to succeed. 

Local and federal legislation to legalize cannabis can still fall short in addressing social equity, such as reparative policies for those previously harmed by cannabis prohibition or the creation of cannabis worker-owned co-ops. Addressing these issues is often left to cannabis companies themselves after their operations are legally authorized. 

As adult-use legalization and commercial sales continue to spread, the growth of cannabis worker unions can help ensure not just more equitable jobs, but a more sustainable industry.

Photograph via Cannabis Training University

Umme Hoque
Umme Hoque

Umme is Filter‘s editorial fellow. She is a journalist and editor who has written about human rights, politics, education and climate, with an interest in the impact of social and public policies on disenfranchised communities. She also works as an organizer and advocate, working to build a future with education, housing and health care for all. Umme lives in New Mexico.

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