Cresco Labs cannabis cultivation employees in Massachusetts ditch union

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Image of an indoor cannabis grow

(Photo by Kim/stock.adobe.com)

(This story has been updated to clarify that no formal union vote was taken.)

In a reversal for organized labor after years of positive momentum in the regulated marijuana industry, employees at a Cresco Labs cannabis cultivation facility in Fall River, Massachusetts, chose to de-unionize earlier this month, according to documents obtained by MJBizDaily.

The situation is believed to be the first instance in the U.S. of a regulated cannabis workplace exiting organized labor.

Gardeners, shift leads and other agricultural workers at Cresco’s Fall River cultivation operation had joined the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 328 in November 2020.

Their first contract was set to expire in June.

But rather than negotiate a new deal, the workers elected to ditch the UFCW entirely, Cresco employee Wyatt Brissette told MJBizDaily.

Sore points among the formerly unionized workers included scheduled wage increases that didn’t keep up with inflation and “arguably worse benefits” than what nonunion workers received, he said.

None of the benefits seemed to justify the $40 monthly union dues, Brissette said.

“We felt as if (the union) didn’t match what we needed,” he said. “We were pretty much paying them for nothing.”

It was Brissette who initiated the de-unionization, a process called “decertification,” according to Massachusetts Division of Labor Relations records.

Majority of workers supported move

Of Brissette’s 20 co-workers who were union members, 18 supported decertification, he said.

“We had an overwhelming number of people who were ready to put it back into Cresco’s hands,” he said.

Providence, Rhode Island-based UFCW Local 328 did not return MJBizDaily messages seeking comment.

The union did not appear to try hard to keep the Fall River employees, according to emails between Cresco workers and Local 328 Director of Organizing Miguel Santos.

The emails were shared with MJBizDaily.

“With the contract expiring, the union would be more than willing to go through the process of negotiating the contract, and if you all remain unhappy with it, we would pull the union certification,” Santos wrote to the employees on April 2.

That message elicited “no response,” Santos noted in a follow-up email on April 4.

Rare union setback

The setback in Massachusetts is a rare sour note for organized labor in the cannabis industry after years of organizing victories.

But it is likely to be welcome news in C-suites as legal marijuana’s bear market continues.

“We are very proud that our employees in Fall River have signaled their trust in Cresco by choosing to work directly with us,” Lindsey Dadourian, senior vice president of employee and labor relations at the Chicago-based multistate operator, said in a statement emailed to MJBizDaily.

“We have always supported our employees’ choice to decide about organized representation, and that goes both ways.

“We will continue to support our employees while also working to maintain positive and productive relationships with the local unions that continue to represent some of our employees elsewhere.”

The exit rewarded the staffers, at least in the short term, Brissette said.

Pay for gardeners now starts at $20 an hour, up from $19 under the union, he said, and gardener leads earn wages of $22.50, up from $21.

The employees also are now eligible to receive Cresco stock as part of their compensation package, he said.

The decision does not affect the other 70 people Cresco employs in Fall River – nor does it immediately impact the 11 union employees at Cresco’s cultivation facility in Leicester, Massachusetts, who are represented by UFCW Local 1445.

In addition to the two cultivation facilities in Massachusetts, 13 of Cresco Labs’ retail marijuana stores, operating under the Sunnyside brand, are unionized, including one in Fall River.

Chris Roberts can be reached at chris.roberts@mjbizdaily.com.