Can I Join a Cannabis Union? Unionization Grows Within the Cannabis Industry

Where's Weed

Published on 3/19/22

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The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot about the world. Between the global lockdowns, loss of or shift to remote work for hundreds of millions, and the opportunity for people to switch careers in mass, the last two years have changed the way that workers value their labor. That reevaluation of labor has led to a massive shift in the industries that workers choose to be in. The shift is so substantial that experts have dubbed it "The Great Resignation." One of the industries that benefitted most from this reshuffling was the legal cannabis industry.

Research shows that despite the challenges presented by the nearly two-year-long global pandemic, cannabis industry jobs are growing fasters than ever. The legal cannabis industry now supports more than 321,000 jobs, more than doubling since 2018. In that same timeframe, the legal market surpassed $17.5 billion in sales in 2020, a 46 percent jump year-over-year. So what does that mean for the industry overall and the workers in that industry? 

With the money flowing, the number of jobs increasing, and the mainstream demand for top-notch cannabis only increasing, the obvious next step is the rise of workers unions for cannabis. If you're reading this and wondering stuff like, "can cannabis workers unionize" or didn't even realize that there were cannabis unions in America, then you're not alone. That's where this article comes in!  

We're going to break down the history of unions and what they do, why they're essential for workers in an industry like cannabis, and highlight some of the nation's most powerful cannabis-related unions and how workers can join them! Let's get right into it. 

A Brief History of Unions

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America and labor have an interesting relationship. For as long as the U.S. has existed, there have been workers within its borders. That's the fundamental trade-off of living in a capitalistic society. You, as a worker, sell your time and labor to an employer for a set hourly rate, which gives you money to spend on food, housing, and whatever is left over after your basic needs are met. Over time, however, the power balance between the workers and those they worked for grew unbalanced. 

As the Industrial Revolution boomed, workers were drawn into bigger population centers searching for work, which drove up the price of housing, food, and other necessities. In the meantime, wages stagnated. As a result, workers in skill-based trades turned to collective bargaining strategies to ensure their wage demands were met. After all, if all of the people who do an essential service stick together and demand the same wages, it's impossible for the employers to undercut those workers for less. Thus, the seeds that grew the modern-day unions were born! 

Basically, if you're reading this article on the weekend or during a lunch or smoke break on your shift at work, you have labor unions to thank for that mandated free time. 

While this is, of course, a simplified and reductive history of the labor movement here in America, it's a good introduction to how unions work today. If you're interested in a more extended, more political, and much more in-depth breakdown of the rise of labor unions here in America, click here!  

Labor Unions and Cannabis

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So how do labor unions and the legal cannabis industry correspond with one another? A whole lot, as it turns out. In recreationally legal states like New Jersey, Illinois, and Massachusetts, cannabis industry workers have already come together to form successful unions. 

These unions are important to cannabis industry workers for a few reasons. First and foremost, the pandemic shined a massive spotlight on workers' rights and power, along with the conditions they were being forced to work in. That's a core reason behind the Great Resignation and why many have chosen to shift to the cannabis industry for work instead. Less hard labor, for better pay and benefits, in a more comfortable and secure working environment. It's a no-brainer, really. 

Those workers walked into an industry with an already thriving history of cannabis workers' unions, which we'll touch on in more detail later in this piece. While other industries like retail, factory work for big companies like Walmart and Amazon, and restaurant industries push hard against unionization efforts for their workers, that culture isn't prevalent in the upstart legal weed industry.

So who are the big players when it comes to cannabis unions? Well, the biggest and most dominant union to shift their focus to the legal cannabis industry so far has been the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW for short. During the pandemic, this union made headlines for striking unions contracts and deals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, two massive East Coast cannabis markets. The UFCW has been in the legal cannabis game since 2010 and today represents more than 10,000 workers across 14 different states. Simply put, they're cannabis union juggernauts.

Why Does Unionization for Cannabis Workers Matter?

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Unionization for cannabis workers, just like it is for nearly any other industry, improves working conditions, pay, and benefits associated with that job. According to the UFCW, their unionization effects have led to a measurable increase in quality and pay standards for all workers, particularly workers of color. Union POC cannabis industry workers earned as much as 32 percent more than non-union workers of color.

On top of the better conditions, the pay was better too. Unionized workers saw a spike in pay by nearly $9k compared to their non-unionized cannabis industry peers. Those financial gains are across the board when it comes to cannabis industry jobs as well. Cannabis retail workers saw nearly $3,000 more in annual wages, processing workers saw an $8,600 increase, and cultivators saw an extra $7,000. 

So unions in cannabis not only improve your working conditions and pay, but they also ensure racial equity in the workforce, something that labor advocates have long been fighting for across industries.  

Simply put, cannabis industry unions ensure workers are cared for and appropriately compensated by their employers, set standards by which the industry should operate, and are only growing in popularity as the legal industry grows as well. It's clear that the future is bright for cannabis industry workers and the overall cannabis workers union movement!        

Are you involved with a union? Let us know if you found this article to be helpful below.