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New York Requires Unionized Grow and Dispensary Workers

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When the Compassionate Care Act was passed this summer by Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, it included language that marijuana workers would be required to organize under a union.

“The state has a proprietary interest to make sure that jobs created in this industry provide quality medicine to the patients but it is also a jobs bill that ensures jobs created in the industry are full-time, middle-class work that will prosper the workers as well as the industry,” said Joseph Fontano, assistant to the president of Local 338 in Mineola.

Under the law, any entrepreneur applying for a marijuana license must sign a labor peace agreement in order to give workers an opportunity to join the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU), which organizes marijuana workers in New York state. “Right now a lot of organizations that are looking to get licensed are having conversations, and several have signed letters of agreement guaranteeing labor peace,” said Patrick McCarthy, managing director with Mercury, a public strategy firm in Albany.

Union benefits may however be an obstacle for smaller business owners hoping to secure a dispensary license. “Only those who can afford to pay the higher costs associated with union workers will succeed, and that’s usually companies or bigger groups that have large amounts of capital to invest,” said Larry Mishkin, an attorney with Silver & Mishkin in Northbrook, IL.

Unions are known to require employers to pay for healthcare coverage and fund the retirement pensions of their employees. “As we see more states coming on board legally, it’s becoming more difficult for the average small business person to own a dispensary, production or processing facility,” said Ata Gonzalez, who launched a marijuana company called GFarmaLabs in California six years ago. “Seems like New York will be a hard state, but hopefully that will change.”

Extending also to temp workers, marijuana grow and dispensary owners will need to designate staffing agencies in advance and have them written into labor peace agreements that will be negotiated with the union. “This will translate into a better product and safer industry so in the long run everyone will benefit,” McCarthy said.

Stephen Sullivan, who owns Ms. Mary Staffing in Colorado, has already met with a few union groups in New York. “Once medical marijuana is up and running, we will recruit through the unions for those jobs to satisfy that need,” said Sullivan. “It’s an extra step for us to take but it’s not a major obstacle.”

Fontano claims the labor bill takes care of not only workers but also medical marijuana patients. “The state has a proprietary interest to make sure that jobs created in this industry provide quality medicine to the patients but it is also a jobs bill that ensures positions created in the industry are full-time, middle class work that will prosper the workers as well as the industry,” said Fontano, who was a featured panelist at the International Cannabis Association conference in New York last month.

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