Michigan regulators heard hours of public comment from a jam-packed room of cannabis business owners, industry workers, and consumers about a range of topics on Wednesday, but many chose to focus their allotted time on one in particular: labor peace agreements.
Michigan regulators have proposed permanent cannabis licensing rules that would require all state-legal cannabis businesses to enter into a “labor peace agreement”—a contract between an employer, in this case, a cannabis business, and a labor union, in which the business agrees to work with the union to organize the workplace. This rule has already caused pushback in the state legislature, with the Senate and House passing resolutions in opposition. Republican State Rep. Michele Hoitenga called the rule “burdensome and unnecessary.”
Union conversations are increasingly occurring within the cannabis industry in the United States and Canada as the industries mature. New York, for example, requires such agreements. And even Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted his support last month as Illinois cannabis industry workers voted for representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, a first in the state.
Steve Linder, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturer’s Association, spoke on behalf of the Association, which is opposed to the rule. The MCMA, Linder said, includes some of the largest growers, processors, and vertically integrated businesses in the state, and accounts for nearly half a billion dollars worth of investment. Linder said that the rule amounts to using “licensure as a hammer.”
“It’s not the role of the state to act as a brokerage agent for labor unions. We believe that it is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act to do so, and we oppose this rule in its entirety,” Linder said.
Jeffrey Lawrence, of the Reason Foundation, expressed opposition to the labor agreement rule, too, on the grounds that he believes that it “exceeds the statutory authority given to the department,” and that it violates federal labor law. Lawrence pointed to a case that was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 called Golden State Transit Corp. vs the City of Los Angeles, in which the court decided that the City of Los Angeles could not require a taxicab company to enter into a labor peace agreement as a condition of being issued a license.
“They said that very clearly that this violated the authority given to the [National Labor Relations Board] and that that was an exclusive authority to be exercised at the federal level. We see that is directly applicable to this proposed rule,” Lawrence said, adding that if the rule is challenged in federal court, “we believe it’ll be overturned.”
Jason Palomba, a registered voter in Ingham County, which includes the capitol city of Lansing, supports the labor peace agreement requirement. As a union worker, he said, he “enjoys the guaranteed rest periods, and most importantly, the safety that the union affords.
“The license requirement will ensure that workers will be able to choose on their own whether or not they want to join a union, free from pressure from their employer or from labor organizations,” Palomba said. “I really strongly feel that unions are an important part of the workplace.”
Jerry Young, a lifelong Michigan resident, said that the labor peace agreements would lead to a more “fair and stable” cannabis industry in the state.
“I believe the labor peace agreements will make the cannabis industry more diverse. We need to ensure that women and people of color are able to participate in this growing cannabis industry,” Young said. “Access to representation will ensure that a broad range of workers will benefit from the growing industry, especially workers from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana being illegal in the past.”
Chris Dekker, 35, said he’s been working in the cannabis industry as a budtender for nine months. For six of those months, he worked for a cannabis shop in Portage, Michigan, and said that he was “personally negatively impacted by the lack of a labor peace agreement.
“I was retaliated against and fired for simply attempting to organize my fellow coworkers for better wages and conditions,” Dekker said, adding that he had to dip into savings meant to go toward buying a house during this time.
“It is clear to me that the labor peace agreement is presently needed in the cannabis industry and that currently we as workers have no representation or power as the industry booms and a few people make millions and millions of dollars,” Dekker said. “By passing these rules, you will send a strong signal that you are on the side of Michigan workers. Companies that benefit from Michigan’s labor force must be held fair and accountable standards.”