The tension between employers and employees is an age-old problem, and the advantage of one group over the other seems to swing like a political pendulum. As cannabis moves into its new market space in California, workers are hoping to figure out how they can use their collective power to demand fair rights for themselves.
Indeed, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has been showing interest in their future role in the cannabis industry for a number of years. As the January 1st roll-out deadline approaches, industry players are anxious to make their marks early and strong. James Araby, executive director of the UFCW Western States Council spoke recently to KQED News about what he sees as a vital aspect of the emerging industry:
“‘We’ve found in this industry that many workers were paid in cash or product or not paid at all, that many of their rights were violated, and that some might not know that they even have rights,’ Araby said. ‘They can be working 12-hour days and not be getting paid overtime.’
“As marijuana becomes increasingly commercialized, there is a worry that big corporations will come in and push down wages. The ‘Walmartization of weed’ is a phrase that is thrown around a lot these days by workers and growers in the industry. Araby said there is an opportunity right now for the union to carve out protections for workers.
“…Only a handful of dispensaries in California are unionized, but Araby said the UFCW is reaching out now to get other cannabis operations on board.”
What happens next is anyone’s guess. Unions play a strong role in many of California’s industries and enjoy strong support among the state’s citizens. However, unions have also received backlash from many for what some see as onerous and overly-burdensome practices. Will a strong cannabis union emerge to rival organizations such as the UFCW? Will an established union push its way into that space? Will cannabis become a California industry that exists in an unlikely space of having non-union workers?