When crafting permanent rules for the state’s cannabis industry, Michigan regulators proposed a requirement that all state-legal cannabis businesses enter into “labor peace agreements,” in which a business agrees to allow a union to organize its shop. But that language, and several other rules, has been stripped from the final version, which is expected to go into effect this week.
At a packed and passionate meeting in February, regulators heard comment after comment from people in support of the idea of a labor peace agreement—a contract between an employer, in this case, a cannabis business, and a labor union, in which the business allows the union to organize the workplace. But later, when written comments flooded in, the majority of commenters voiced strong opposition to requirement. The written comments, it seems, won the day.
Andrew Brisbo, executive director of Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency, told Cannabis Wire that the proposal for labor peace agreements received “a lot” of support at the February meeting, but then came a “tremendous amount of written feedback.”
“And a lot of the feedback was on the opposite side of what you probably saw in the public hearing. So ultimately, in evaluating all of that feedback and the legal basis for establishing the rules, we determined that it was best to take it out at that point,” Brisbo said.
Cannabis Wire reviewed dozens of written comments, and indeed, many were opposed to labor peace agreements.
A man who signed their email “Angry voter, Don Stewart,” wrote to Michigan regulators that “This so called Labor Peace Agreement is anything but a peace agreement. It’s the Gov declaring WAR on all the non union businesses in the state. This must be stopped right now.”
Another written commenter, who signed their name as Thomas Radford, wrote, “This is a real piece of criminal activity and it leaves a bad taste in all Michigan residents mouthes [sic]. It should never get passed and is a disgraceful stain on the State of Michigan.” (Radford did not clarify what he thought was “criminal activity.”)
The debate about labor peace agreements in Michigan comes at a time when conversations about unions are rising within the cannabis industry in the United States and Canada. New York, for example, requires such agreements in its medical cannabis industry. In Illinois, the adult use legalization bill reads, “The General Assembly supports and encourages labor neutrality in the cannabis industry”—which means, in short, that employers don’t interfere with efforts to organize a workplace—and whether an entity plans to enter into such an agreement is considered a positive in the scoring of business license applications.
A Teamsters spokesperson, Kara Deniz, expressed disappointment to Cannabis Wire about the removal of language related to labor peace agreements.
“Removing the labor peace provision in the legislation is not only depriving cannabis workers of their rights, but also shortsighted, as regulation in this industry, especially in the startup phase, is essential. Workers need to feel protected in order to speak up and be able to bring to light violations and inadequacies that occur,” Deniz said. “Workers are in the best place to do this, but won’t if they are not protected by a union.”
Many commenters at February’s public meeting argued that labor peace agreements were an important part of the growing cannabis industry. Jerry Young, a lifelong Michigan resident, said at February’s meeting that 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, who said during the meeting that he’s been working in the cannabis industry as a budtender for under a year, said that six of those months he worked for a cannabis shop in Portage, Michigan where 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.”
Language related to the creation of independent cannabis delivery licenses was also removed, Brisbo told Cannabis Wire, because of “concerns” about public safety.
The expansion of individual licenses for cannabis delivery that aren’t tied to another license, perhaps a licensed retailer, “raises some concerns about a potential point for diversion, or opportunities for individuals who might be engaging in some of those unlawful delivery services now to use that low cost license type as an entry point to potentially siphon business away from the regulated market,” Brisbo told Cannabis Wire, noting that perhaps the conversation about these types of licenses could be picked up in the future.
“It was prudent to take it out and give it some more thoughtful consideration to determine if there is a potential pathway forward for a delivery-only license type.”