One of the nation’s largest unions is urging northeast governors to protect cannabis workers’ rights by requiring that companies seeking business licenses allow for labor peace agreements.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union sent a letter asking for “consumer and worker protections to be a top priority” to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
UFCW represents 1.3 million workers in industries from retail and food processing to meatpacking and cannabis. The union represents thousands of cannabis workers in 12 states.
This letter comes as a response to last month’s Regional Cannabis Regulation and Vaping Summit, during which northeast governors laid out plans for a coordinated approach to adult use legalization, a UFCW spokesperson told Cannabis Wire.
At the summit, Cuomo said that, when it comes to legalization, “the devil is in the details. It can be a positive if done right, negative if done incorrectly,” adding, “This issue is complicated, controversial, and consequential. It is probably one of the most challenging I’ve had to address in New York, and it’s a challenge for all the states.”
UFCW wrote in the letter that the “joint agreement” between these northeast states, which aims to limit licenses and prioritize smaller cannabis businesses, and create the types of programs that will empower those who have cannabis convictions, will “support thousands of good jobs, strengthen our region’s economy, and move our nation closer to a unified cannabis policy that extends opportunities for working families across the country.”
“UFCW understands that strengthening worker rights and safety standards are essential to a successful cannabis industry and we urge you to prioritize labor peace agreements in the new joint framework on cannabis reached by your states,” the letter continued.
Such agreements ensure the neutrality of the employer if and when a group of employees decide to unionize. Labor peace agreements also give workers an “independent voice,” the letter continued, “about any compliance concerns without fear of retaliation.”
New York and New Jersey already have such agreements in place for their medical cannabis industries, which could be a foot in the door for UFCW’s proposal. Though, as a result of the commitment to a coordinated approach, UFCW will likely need buy in from each state.
“As has been the case for the medical cannabis industry in New York, Governor Cuomo’s proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis in New York last year included a provision requiring a labor peace agreement,” Cuomo spokesperson Caitlin Girouard told Cannabis Wire. “And as New York continues working to advance an adult-use cannabis program we will take every precaution to ensure the safety of workers and consumers.”
California requires a labor peace agreement for all businesses applying for a cannabis license, Illinois requires these agreements for “most cannabis operators applying for a license,” and Pennsylvania regulators consider labor peace agreements when reviewing applications for cannabis business licenses, according to a UFCW spokesperson.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said at October’s gubernatorial cannabis policy summit that “This patchwork quilt of regulations makes no sense at all,” emphasizing the complications that arise with so many smaller states clustered together in the northeast. “My state of Connecticut, people cross the border. They drive up to Massachusetts where they buy some cannabis and bring it back, and that makes a real problem for our state police.”
Murphy, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on the matter. Cannabis Wire has reached out to the other governors that UFCW sent the letter to, and will update this story with responses.
At the summit, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told Cannabis Wire, and a small group of journalists, “The more coordinated and harmonious we can be, the better off we’ll all individually be. Obviously, we’d keep our own legislative reality. Your executive order authority is your own, but I’m optimistic we can do this in a way—this being both vaping and adult use of recreational marijuana—in a coordinated way.”
Separately, UFCW has been lobbying at the federal level on cannabis-related bills and issues since late 2018. The union met with House and Senate staff to discuss “cannabis classification and related issues” and “cannabis banking legislation, Secure And Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (HR 1595).”
The letter was signed by the following:
UFCW International President Marc Perrone (Washington, D.C.)
Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum (New York, NY)
UFCW International Vice President and Region 1 Director David Young (Little Falls, NJ)
UFCW Local 152 President Brian String (Egg Harbor Township, NJ)
UFCW Local 328 President Timothy Melia (Providence, RI)
RWDSU/UFCW Local 338 President Jon Durso (Mineola, NY)
UFCW Local 360 President Salvatore “Sam” Ferraino (West Berlin, NJ)
UFCW Local 371 President Thomas Wilkinson (Westport, CT)
UFCW Local 919 President Mark Espinosa (Farmington, CT)
UFCW Local 1445 President Jeffrey Bollen (Dedham, MA)
UFCW Local 1459 President Tyrone Housey (Springfield, MA)
UFCW Local 1776KS President Wendell Young (Plymouth Meeting, PA)
RWDSU New York City Director Dave Mertz (New York, NY)
This story was updated at 4:26 p.m. eastern with additional information from UFCW. It was updated again at 5:28 p.m. with comments from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.