Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is bringing his pro-union message to the marijuana industry.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said on Monday that workers “in the cannabis industry deserve respect and fair wages,” and he encouraged employees of a grow facility owned by the major marijuana company Cresco Labs in Joliet, Illinois “to vote yes for the union on Tuesday.”
Workers in the cannabis industry deserve respect and fair wages. I encourage Cresco Labs workers in Joliet to vote yes for the union on Tuesday. As president, I will lead the fight to double union membership in this country. https://t.co/NwOeNNh9aZ
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 13, 2020
“As president, I will lead the fight to double union membership in this country,” he said.
The workers seemed to take that message to heart and the “overwhelming majority of the employees made history by becoming the first cannabis workers to win an election in Illinois” on Tuesday night, according to a press release from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881 chapter.
About 100 workers at the cannabis cultivation facility were eligible to vote on unionization in a state where retail marijuana shops opened just weeks ago. While much of the focus has been on Illinois’s massive initial sales and the push for social equity in the market, labor organizers are also keeping a close eye on the industry.
“Congratulations to the new Local 881 members at Cresco in Joliet who have set a positive example—for the entire state of Illinois and the cannabis industry at large—of what can happen when workers come together to improve their working conditions,” said Local 881 President Steve Powell, who is also a UFCW International vice president. “It takes strong resolve on the part of workers to stand up and demand a real voice on the job. Our Union is proud of these workers and looks forward to standing with them to negotiate and demand a fair and just contract that will improve their working conditions.”
With today's victory, @CrescoLabs employees have shown the power #cannabis workers have when they join #unions and stand up for the good jobs our families need. #1u https://t.co/lDWRYk3mOx pic.twitter.com/9BZIYC0aT6
— UFCW (@UFCW) January 15, 2020
Prior to the vote, Cresco responded to Sanders’s tweet, thanking Sanders for “thinking of our workers.”
Thanks for thinking of our workers here at @crescolabs @berniesanders. We support our employees’ right to be represented if they wish – the choice is theirs to make and we support the outcome, whatever it may be, of the upcoming union election. #righttovote #illinoiscannabis
— Cresco Labs (@crescolabs) January 14, 2020
“We support our employees’ right to be represented if they wish—the choice is theirs to make and we support the outcome, whatever it may be, of the upcoming union election,” the company said.
A number of individuals pushed back on that tweet, however, alleging that the company has discouraged unionization, in part by classifying growers under a group of workers that are ineligible to vote to organize.
They launched an anti union campaign. Then they classified us growers as migrant farm workers to remove our right to organize! Under that classification they don’t have to pay overtime, they don’t have to pay minimum wage! Why are they doing this to us?
— Angie Moreland (@AngieMoreland) January 14, 2020
If you “support your workers”, why have you launched an anti union campaign? Why did you classify your gardeners as migrant farm workers to remove their right to organize? That doesn’t sound like supporting your workers…
— dontblockmecresco (@dontblockmecre1) January 14, 2020
In an earlier press release last month, Local 881 UFCW said they asked Cresco to voluntarily recognize the union but that the company rejected their request. That prompted organizers to file a petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.
“Workers at Cresco in Illinois report that the Company initiated a full anti-Union campaign against them the moment they started their organizing campaign,” the union said at the time. “Local 881 has charged Cresco with committing numerous violations of federal labor laws,” including intimidating pro-union workers, coercing employees by conferring benefits and soliciting workers grievances.
“The cannabis industry is about to grow enormously in Illinois,” Powell said. “It is very disappointing to see Cresco lowering the standards and expectations of jobs in this industry.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to Cresco for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
“We support our employees’ right to be represented if they wish, while also strongly advocating for their right to vote in a secret ballot election,” Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes told Crain’s Chicago Business. “The choice is theirs, and we support them in whatever decision they make.”
This story was updated to note the result of the vote.
Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull.