As more states have moved to legalize marijuana, there’s been a growing push to secure labor protections for cannabis workers. And two congressman are helping to lend a hand to the movement amid a renewed national conversation around unionization.
Reps. Donald Norcross (D-NJ) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) are hosting a roundtable event on Tuesday to address the unique labor issues in the marijuana sector and advocate for a House-passed bill that could help resolve some of those challenges. Representatives of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and marijuana industry employees will also be at the event.
As worker-led unionization efforts at major corporations like Amazon and Starbucks are catching national attention, the congressmen also talked about the relationship between the marijuana industry and the labor movement in a phone interview with Marijuana Moment on Monday.
The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a broad labor rights bill, “will help all sectors and make it easier for people who want to have an election actually be able to get an election and be able to form a union,” Pocan said.
“There’s been a lot of slippage in that in the last number of years,” the congressman said. “I think that one of the things we look at is the cannabis industry really is prime for organizing right now—just like you’re seeing with Starbucks, just like you’re seeing with Amazon, just like you’re seeing the video game industry.”
“I think you have potential to see that with the cannabis industry, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “When people are organized, depending on the position, it’s like $3,000 to $8,000 more they can make simply by being a member of a unionized business in cannabis.”
From cultivation to processing to retail, I stand in solidarity with these hardworking Americans. It’s why I support the #PROAct and will continue fighting for workers' rights. pic.twitter.com/Rzrh7C4NKg
— Congressman Donald Norcross 🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@DonaldNorcross) April 26, 2022
Asked about the potential broader impact of unionization on drug testing policies in legal states, Norcross stressed that the “one thing having a union will absolutely do is give you a voice in the workplace—and give you the ability to have representation if you are accused” of violating a given policy.
Pocan echoed that point, saying that “just by having the ability to have a union,” there’s the opportunity to advance reform, “including around testing.”
Another impact of the push would be to help normalize the cannabis sector, Pocan said. “It’s a respectable business and legal in many states, and then that would impact other state laws.”
Cannabis workers deserve fair wages and safe working conditions, just like everyone else. I look forward to hearing their thoughts and opinions. pic.twitter.com/7xFziH81Co
— Congressman Donald Norcross 🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@DonaldNorcross) April 25, 2022
One area that UCFW in particular has been focused on is advocating for marijuana laws that require businesses to enter into labor peace agreements with their employees.
Such agreements don’t require unionization; rather, they are tentative policies where workers generally accept that they won’t strike or boycott businesses and companies are expected to distance themselves from discussions concerning labor union attempts to organize workers.
Tuesday’s roundtable comes days after adult-use marijuana sales launched in New Jersey, where there are already labor peace agreement requirements in effect for the state’s medical cannabis industry.
In 2019, UCFW sent a letter to the governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island that insisted on providing worker protections in any regulatory framework for legal marijuana markets that emerged in their states.
The labor union has separately advocated for the passage of marijuana banking reform legislation as a step toward protecting workers who operate in the cash-intensive industry under federal prohibition.
Labor reform efforts could also bolster worker safety protections by having those directly impacted by crime targeting the industry at the table to push for internal changes, advocates say.
UCFW currently represents more than 10,000 marijuana workers across the country, and they hope to see membership grow as more state markets come online.