California Medical Marijuana Workers Form Union

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Graphic: Budhoe

​Organized labor and California’s burgeoning marijuana industry are coming together for what is believed to be the very first time, after 100 employees at Oaksterdam University turned in their union cards and joined the 26,000-member Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, school and union officials confirmed Wednesday, reports Chris Roberts at the SF Appeal.

Oaksterdam, which includes a cannabis dispensary and plant nursery, as well as cultivation classes, is also the force behind California’s legalization initiative, Tax Cannabis 2010, through the deep pockets of founder and owner Richard Lee, who has given nearly $1.3 million to the ballot measure.


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Photo: Farmer Joe’s & Friends
Dan Rush, UFCW: “They want the community to understand them as decent, hard-working people”

​”They want the community to understand them as decent, hard-working people,” said Dan Rush,  in charge of special operations for UFCW Local 5, reports John Hoeffel at The Los Angeles Times.
Rush, who lives in Oakland, saw the medical marijuana industry helping to revive neighborhoods not far from his home. He looked at the legalization initiative on the November ballot, Hoeffel reports, and concluded that his union ought to become allies with the growing industry and push to expand it.
“It’s a very big deal,” said union spokesman Mike Henneberry, communications director for UFCW Local 5’s Hayward office, the local union shop for Oaksterdam. Henneberry said Oaksterdam’s brand new union members turned in their cards about three weeks ago, at a ceremony overseen by Oakland City Council member and marijuana supporter Rebecca Kaplan.

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Graphic: UFCW

​”It’s the first organized medical cannabis operation — I believe — in the U.S. or Canada, so it’s groundbreaking in that sense,” Henneberry said. “People [and other dispensaries]who wouldn’t even thought about unionizing are now thinking about it.”
According to Roberts, UFCW won a major coup by securing the first-of-its-kind arrangement with Oaksterdam. It’s a win-win-win, with benefits also accruing to Tax Cannabis 2010 and dispensary operators. The SF Appeal speculates that dispensaries can now organize with union assistance prior to asking city councils or planning commissions for permits.
“Local 5 is a very large and highly respected union,” said Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. “This reflects a change about attitudes about cannabis in this state — and the recognition of the economic realities that California is facing.”
“People who who didn’t want to listen [to Tax Cannabis 2010]will now be forced to listen,” said Dale Sky Clare, executive chancellor at Oaksterdam University. “People have confidence in unions.”
“It’s another validation of the idea that the cannabis industry is a legitimate industry that creates taxpaying jobs,” said Oaksterdam founder Lee.
In addition to retail clerks at dispensaries, union organizers expect thousands of new cannabis-processing jobs, agricultural work for growers, and security positions at dispensaries, reports Joe Garofoli at the San Francisco Chronicle.
“These will be good union jobs with middle-class incomes,” said Ron Lind, president of Local 5 and a vice-president of the 1.3 million-member international union.
The union has not officially endorsed the legalization initiative. That endorsement, however, could possibly come in July, according to Lind.
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