United Food and Commercial Workers seek to organize the cannabis industry

The international union United Food & Commercial Workers seeks to organize the cannabis industry. Credit: Christine Stuart

HARTFORD, CT – There are no cannabis workers to organize yet, but the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union is looking to be able to organize these workers as soon as they walk in the door – starting with training programs .

“We are just preparing for when the industry is up and running,” said Local 371 President Ron Petronella.

The Department of Consumer Protection and the Social Equity Council collect applications from residents interested in growing, selling and carrying the product. It is unclear how quickly these licenses will be awarded, but the outlets should be operational before the end of the year.

Mark Espinosa, president of Local 919, said they have been the voice of cannabis workers across the country for the past decade.

“The United Food & Commercial Workers union is not new to this,” Espinosa said. “Our goals are to ensure workers achieve some of the standards and benefits that only a collective agreement can typically produce. So they can opt out of this so-called gig economy.

Espinosa said the union’s new apprenticeship and training program will train workers “from seed to sale”.

The programs will also ensure that cannabis-related jobs pay decent wages.

A big part of the legalization effort has been the creation of the Social Equity Council which will give deference to applicants from certain census tracts with lower income levels. The aim is to ensure that those affected by the war on drugs will benefit from the new regulated market.

Senator Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said it was the path to “good middle-class jobs.”

She said they already knew there would be more people applying for these licenses than there would be licenses to grant.

“So there’s no doubt there will be fierce competition to come to Connecticut and establish themselves in the new cannabis industry,” Kushner said.

The licensing process opened in January.

“When we see there’s going to be new business for Connecticut, which is what we all want. When we see that there is going to be huge profits generated, which is what we all want. We also want to know that there is a pathway for these workers into the middle class and we want to make sure these jobs in Connecticut are good jobs with good wages,” Kushner said.

Petronelle agreed.

“Having a decent salary and health insurance, I think, is quite important,” he said.

The labor peace agreement means employers would give the union access to come and talk to employees about unionizing.

“When that happens and people are free to sign up, they normally do,” Petronella said.

He said they are interested in outlets where there will be 60 to 70 employees and growth operations where there will be fewer. He said growing facilities are low-labor-intensive as it usually involves lights, water and machinery.

In California and Washington, where cannabis has been legal for years, workers are represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, Petronella said.

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