Cannabis workers ratify union contract
By TOM BODUS
Editor in Chief
IMPERIAL – This city’s retail cannabis outlet is officially a union shop.
March and Ash issued a release Monday that employees at three of its four locations in San Diego and Imperial counties ratified their first-ever union contract on May 12.
The agreement between March and Ash and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 follows two years of organizing and negotiations between the two parties. The contract covers more than 140 of the company’s employees.
The affected locations are March and Ash retail outlets in the City Heights community of San Diego, the city of Vista and the city of Imperial. The City Heights and Imperial locations offer recreational cannabis products, while the Vista location is medicinal only.
“We believe this contract sets the gold standard in the unionized cannabis industry and will be used as a model in future negotiations with companies whose employees choose to go union,” March and Ash said in a release.
“This contract will create career jobs and promote an industry-setting standard that is needed to ensure that cannabis workers are accepted and valued,” said Todd Walters, president of UFCW Local 135. “This industry-leading contract will create a new model for March and Ash employees, and other members of the industry, by providing training, educational opportunities, childcare and more. We are proud of the work effort put in, and are honored to have delivered a contract worthy of these cannabis workers.”
California cannabis businesses must sign a Labor Peace Agreement, which provides a commitment from operators to allow unions to discuss the prospect of unionizing with employees, March and Ash spokeswoman Jessica Bradford said.
This does not, however, mean that most cannabis employees are unionized, she added. “This is the first union-organizing and labor contract to originate in the city of San Diego, for example, where there are 24 cannabis retail outlets.”
Bradford said labor is making a push to move from labor peace agreements to unionizing across the state.
“For our purposes,” she continued, “we worked locally with the UFCW so that we had an open and cooperative process around understanding what organizing and a labor contract would mean for our employees, the company and the industry, as the UFCW moved through the three stages of talking to our employees under a labor peace agreement, to organizing our employees, to negotiating a labor contract with us. We’re proud that this was done openly and in good faith, and mostly that it was done here in San Diego and Imperial counties.”
Early on, Bradford said, March and Ash was asked to join a labor deal from Los Angeles. The company declined.
“That did not interest us,” said March and Ash General Counsel Breton Peace. “This is a new industry with radically different approaches between municipalities, and we are closely held. Our partners live in San Diego and Imperial counties. We are not a publicly listed company based in another country, or an online delivery service.
“It was important to us that we broke apart old models and crafted something that worked for our company, our staff and the communities we serve,” he continued, “proving that we can uphold and support the places we live by delivering a contract that is rooted in our workforce and local economy.”
Bradford said the main hurdle the union faced was clearing up confusion among the employees as to what exactly the contract did for them.
“This is a new industry that until a few years ago operated in the shadows,” she said. “Understanding the purpose of a union and why it mattered to the employees took time and was ultimately successful as a result of trust building and effective communication.”
“We took the time to understand what it is our employees need and want,” Peace said. “Healthcare benefits, subsidized childcare in an industry with many young single- or co-parent arrangements, and participation in the upside, so that being a part of our company is a career one would be proud of. That is what we found to be most important to our employees. We then worked with our partners at the UFCW to take that risk in doing something different and new.”
With the addition of the three March and Ash locations, UFCW Local 135 said it now has three cannabis companies with a total of six locations under its jurisdiction.
“The March and Ash responsible adult use model is rooted in respect for the community, including the people who did not vote to legalize cannabis,” Peace said. “We’re well aware that we can only deliver on that promise through our employees.”