LOCAL Az marijuana dispensary workers unionizing, Big Cannabis throws up roadblocks

Unionization for workers in the cannabis industry is gathering steam in Arizona, as budtenders at the Curaleaf Dispensary in midtown Phoenix recently voted to unionize, while workers at several other dispensaries are poised to vote on the issue within the next few weeks.

“[This] election marks an important milestone for cannabis workers in Arizona and across the country,” United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99 President Jim McLaughlin said in a July 2 press release. “As cannabis companies like Curaleaf continue to see record profits, the time to share their prosperity with workers is long overdue.”

UFCW 99 is Arizona’s largest private-sector union, representing 24,000 workers at Fry’s, Safeway and other retailers throughout the southwest. There are more than 1.3 million UFCW members nationwide.

Massachusetts-based Curaleaf is one of the world’s largest cannabis companies by revenue, operating  more than 100 dispensaries in 22 states across the U.S., including eight in Arizona.

Employees at Curaleaf’s dispensary on Central Avenue, just north of Thomas Road, voted 13-6 on June 30 to join UFCW, making them the first cannabis workers in the state to unionize.

The move to unionize commercial cannabis operations is part of the UFCW’s efforts, known as the Cannabis Workers Rising movement, which began in 2010 when medical cannabis was first legalized in Arizona. The UFCW is working with other Curaleaf locations in the Phoenix area, as well as employees at dispensaries owned by Verano Holdings Corp., a Chicago-based company that operates in 14 states.

According to UFCW spokesperson Drake Ridge, employees at Curaleaf’s Camelback Road dispensary reached out to the UFCW in February and will submit their ballots on July 28. And employees at Zen Leaf in Chandler, owned by Verano Holdings Corp., have their ballots and will cast them by July 19.

“This is something we’ve been working on, both locally and at the international level, for some time now,” Ridge said. “This is a part of a movement that’s really been in the works for some time, but now has a lot of momentum.”

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