Unions and Cannabis: An Employer’s Perspective

Back in February, the Growth Op wrote a piece called “Why unions might hit the cannabis industry soon”. It highlighted a number of reasons why the cannabis industry is attractive to union organizers. As an employer or HR Leader in the cannabis space, you may be wondering, should I be concerned about unionization?


Managing in a unionized environment presents some unique challenges. Often, employers lose the ability to manage their employees directly. Instead, they often start working within the framework of a collective agreement. This can present a loss of flexibility in scheduling, staffing and work planning within an organization as a collective agreement would typically impose restrictions on these activities.The cannabis industry is agile, and these restrictions would likely impact the ability of an organization to react in a timely and dynamic fashion.


Often unionized work environments are not meritocracies. They become seniority-based in nature, and this impacts culture significantly. Employers can spend considerable time, effort and legal fees to work within the labour relations structure. This would typically include regular negotiations and in some cases, arbitration. The risk of work stoppages is also a significant concern for employers.


As rates of unionized labour decline; falling from 37.6% in 1981 to 28.8% in 2014 in Canada, the cannabis sector presents an attractive opportunity for unions to enter a new, growth-oriented industry. (StatsCan) There is significant upside for unions to increase their membership base. Since Canada is a leader in cannabis, Canadian companies are particularly attractive prospects.  


The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) website states their commitment to unionizing workers in the cannabis space. In the US, the UFCW has had successful membership drives at Have a Heart dispensaries and Minnesota Medical Solutions whose staff  are now among the “tens of thousands of cannabis workers” it claims to represent.


Often, union membership presents a compelling case when employment conditions within a company are poor. Employers can optimize the experience of their employees by ensuring they have safe working conditions, are treating employees fairly, have competitive compensation packages in place and are responding to employee concerns and suggestions promptly. Having competent front-line managers and a well-defined conflict resolution process are also essential pieces of ensuring a strong and healthy workplace culture.


Navigating through the issue of unionization can be tricky. Employers need to understand what they can and can’t do or say. Cannabis At Work has put together an online seminar to assist employers in better understanding this complex topic.

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