Cannabis Industry and Unions At Odds in California

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Cannabis companies and labor unions could be headed for a showdown in California over concerns about how deeply embedded the latter should be in the rapidly growing industry, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report. Under California’s medical cannabis law the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has first rights to transport and deliver cannabis products in the state; however such rights are not included in the language of the adult-use measure.

This disconnect will force lawmakers to determine which law takes precedence – Proposition 64 or the state’s medical cannabis laws. The state Legislative Council has indicated Prop. 64 takes precedence, but Barry Broad, the Teamsters’ state legislative director, said the vertically integrated structure under the voter-approved law – which allows growers and manufacturers to self-distribute – could lead to corruption.

“Right now 80 percent of the marijuana produced in California is sent to other states, which is illegal,” he said in the report. “We want to organize the industry, but we want to organize an industry that is well regulated. If you have vertical integration, you are watching yourself.”

Another union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, has partnered with the City College of San Francisco and Oaksterdam University in an apprenticeship course to help train individuals in some aspects of the cannabis industry; but parts of the UFCW plan has forced Dale Sky Jones, executive chancellor of Oaksterdam, to question whether the agreement is something they want to pursue.

Under the UCFW plan, the union would set training standards and provide trainees to the City College program, which would be partially funded for students by union dues, UCFW director Jeff Ferro said. Non-union students would only be allowed for an extra fee.

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“The cannabis industry has traditionally been very sensitive to workers’ rights, and the people who have been working in cannabis tend to be happy,” Jones said. “They are not oppressed workers. So the question is, if the workers don’t need representation against management, then what are they getting for their union dues?”

City College spokesman Jeff Hamilton said the details of the program still need to be worked out and did not indicate whether the college supported the UCFW plan.

Ferro said that if cannabis retailers want to be a “traditional mainstream business” they must provide employees with retirement programs, access to skills and health, and welfare training programs.

“There are people in this business who are happy to work with us, and there are people in it who are angry they have to work with us, but the industry is going to have to contend with labor around cannabis in California,” he said.

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