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First Private-Sector Cannabis Retail Workers on Mainland Unionize

B.C. Bud Union Crops Up in Vancouver as Eggs Canna Staff Seek Fairness

VANCOUVER – Workers at an East Hastings cannabis shop are venturing into green territory after a union vote last week. Together, staff decided to join the BC Budtenders Union – a division of the UFCW 1518 – making them the first private-sector retail workers in the cannabis industry to unionize on the mainland.

UFCW 1518 currently represents growers at the Potanicals greenhouse in Peachland, but Eggs Canna marks the progressive union’s first organizing drive at a mainland dispensary.

UFCW 1518 Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson sees this latest grassroots achievement as proof that workers can be the loudest voice in the room and guide a whole industry, even one as coveted as cannabis.

“To put it into perspective, recreational cannabis was only legalized in 2018,” he says. “Profiteers obviously jumped to stake their claim and capitalize on this new market. But they weren’t the only ones to move quick. From the moment the first shops started opening in Victoria, frontline staff looked for ways to improve their working conditions and to have a say in how the industry was run.”

Fast forward four years and 70% of the for-profit cannabis shops in the capital city have unionized. Today, we’re excited to get behind the Budtenders at Eggs Canna and start to organize around Vancouver. Workers have been at the forefront of this industry from its inception, shapeshifting cannabis to benefit their communities, and their influence is only growing. These folks are unstoppable.”

Like so many British Columbians hired to sell cannabis products in the ever-expanding boutique bud industry, staff at Eggs Canna are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about cannabis. They care about the product, the customer experience, and the community they serve. The Eggs Canna website proudly states “We don’t hire budtenders, we train Cannaseurs.”

The workers want their pay, benefits, respect, and overall working conditions to reflect this high-level training. Ultimately, they want fairness. With UFCW 1518, Eggs Canna employees and their fellow BC Bud members are poised to raise industry standards.

Unionized Budtender Movement Expanding Across BC

Johnson also sees Eggs Canna staff’s success as an opening for more workers to join the movement, especially in large-scale private growing operations.

“At every point along the cannabis supply chain, workers deserve a voice,” he says. “Everyone that works with cannabis plays an integral role in its production process. From its growth to its distribution, sale, delivery, and eventually consumption, pot must serve everyday people. Workers can ensure it does by unionizing.”

UFCW 1518 represents 26,000+ workers in retail, grocery, food production, home care and more. The union continues to grow and represents some of the youngest and most diverse workers in B.C. If you are interested in joining the BC Budtenders Union, check out our website.

More Original Farm Budtenders join UFCW 1518, Smoking out Boss’s Anti-Union Campaign. 

New members will bargain alongside Victoria coworkers for a first contract. 

The staff at Original Farm’s Hillside cannabis dispensary in Victoria care about their community — a lot. 

“There’s so much emotional work that goes into what we do,” says one worker at the shop. “I’ve had customers that come in and they have a breakdown halfway through our conversation…I feel for them so deeply,” but the hardworking staff can only support customers fully if the employer supports them. Up to now, Original Farm workers have not felt supported. 

“The fact that we’re not capable of being able to talk openly about that sort of stuff,” is a problem the Hillside employee explains, and it’s one of many reasons staff decided to harness their collective power and unionize this year. 

The 14 workers joined the BC Budtenders Union last week, after a successful certification vote that came on the heels of a not-so-successful employer campaign to stop the organizing drive. Hillside staff didn’t budge when Original Farm pushed back; they just raised their voices even higher and remained committed to building social justice from the shop floor up. 

They’re not the only ones celebrating either. Budtenders at the downtown Victoria shop joined UFCW 1518 last year, and thanks to a worker-led effort to win a common employer application for these two groups, Hillside members and Downtown members will bargain their first collective agreement together. 

More voices mean more power for these cannabis connoisseurs to create the change they want, need, and deserve. For too long, Hillside staff have suffered chronic short-staffing, high management turnover, job insecurity, and more. 

“Trying to work in that environment feels like you’re at the edge of a sandbank cliff,” the worker adds. 

These members are determined to rebuild that sinking foundation on a culture of care by applying the frontline expertise that they use every day. In bargaining the team plans to prioritize several workplace improvements, including: 

  • Better compensation and health benefits, including living wages that reflect their specialized and challenging work and keeps up with rising rent.
  • Protections against budtender burnout. 
  • Protection against bullying and sexual harassment.
  • Equity-building language (including protections against nepotism).
  • Integrating mental health awareness programs and tools into the shop for staff and customers.

Across Victoria, UFCW 1518 members are re-inventing the cannabis industry with innovative and aspirational contract language, such as employer-paid cannabis sommelier training and tasting discounts. Our union is proud and excited to welcome our newest members to this growing movement, which covers close to 70 percent of cannabis retailers in Victoria. 

Like the workers at all these shops, Hillside staff have been breathing life into the cannabis industry all through the pandemic, interacting with customers, building product knowledge, and creating a comfortable environment for Victorians. They are the experts on their work, and they should have a real say in their working conditions, because when they do, the whole community benefits. 

“I grew up in Victoria and am really proud to have an opportunity like this to help my community grow,” says one Bud Union member. “Cannabis workers were dealt a rough hand through the process of legalization, and it feels wonderful not only to have the opportunity to advocate for ourselves, but to clear a path and set higher advocacy standards for future workers.” 

If you are a cannabis worker and would like to learn more about joining a union, check out the BC Budtender Homepage.  

UFCW 1518 Calls on Victoria City Council to Protect Budtenders

UFCW 1518 is calling on Victoria Council to protect budtenders as the city considers amending the bylaws that govern cannabis dispensaries. The city is considering changing the law that requires two (2) staff members to be onsite during all operating hours.

Staff who work alone in retail stores experience more violence, harassment, threats, and abusive behaviour from customers. Workers who deal with cash are at even higher risk when working alone, particularly at night.

Budtenders in Victoria have reported regular incidences of hostile, threatening and dangerous interactions with customers throughout the City of Victoria. These workers are concerned that these incidences could increase or escalate if budtenders are forced to work alone.

UFCW 1518 has sent a letter to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and to city Councillors asking them to ensure that modernized cannabis retail regulations require at least two (2) staff members while stores are open.

Members of the BC Budtenders Union (a division of UFCW 1518) have the right to collectively negotiate minimum staffing levels into their contracts. The union is concerned that non-unionized budtenders will be put at risk if the bylaws change to allow managers to schedule budtenders to work alone.

If you are a budtender and would like to learn more about how joining a union can improve health & safety at work, go to ufcw1518.com/cannabis.

BC Budtender Union Growing Solidarity in Cannabis Industry

The BC Budtender Union is growing fast as workers at Seed & Stone and the Original FARM vote to join.

A division of UFCW 1518, the BC Budtender Union now represents cannabis workers at seven locations across British Columbia. UFCW 1518 has organized workers at Clarity Cannabis, Victoria Cannabis Buyers’ Club (VCBC), Burnside Buds, and Trees Cannabis. Cannabis growing operation, Potanicals Green Growers in Peachland, BC, is also a part of the union.

Budtenders have been reaching out to UFCW 1518 since 2020 seeking to build more power and respect at work. As the cannabis industry continues to grow, more and more workers have been feeling left behind. Cannabis dispensaries have sprung up across BC since weed was legalized in 2018. However, the workers—essential frontline employees in the COVID-19 pandemic—have not seen an equal share of the profits.

“I’m really glad that I’m not alone in the eyes of the corporation I’m working for now,” said Seed & Stone Budtender Zach Wedderburn. “When you’re an employee it’s a lot more beneficial to be part of a union because there’s a lot more equality and equity.”

BUDTENDERS LOOKING FORWARD TO CONTRACT BARGAINING

With these two new workplaces, the BC Budtender Union will continue growing and building worker power in the cannabis sector. BC Bud members have already gained significant improvements in their jobs, negotiating first contracts that include:

  • Cannabis sommelier training paid for by the employer
  • Industry-leading wages and regularly-scheduled raises
  • Employer-paid certification and licensing
  • Weed tasting and store discounts of up to 30% off
  • And more: read about the first contract at Clarity Cannabis to learn more

Workers at Seed & Stone and Farm are looking forward to beginning the bargaining process and making improvements at their workplaces. “In bargaining, a living wage is one of our top priorities,” said Wedderburn, “but we’re also looking forward to improved communication and more smoothness in day-to-day operations. We all care about this business running well, but we’re looking for our employer to meet us halfway.”

In addition to organizing cannabis retail locations and fighting for wage increases, UFCW 1518 has also fought back against unfair firings in the cannabis industry. In November, the union took the case of an illegally fired budtender to the Labour Relations Board, helping the worker get his job back.

Budtenders looking to learn more about the benefits of joining a union can learn more at ufcw1518.com/cannabis.

Budtender Fired For Unionizing Gets Job Back

A Budtender in Victoria will be going back to work on Friday after he was fired three weeks ago.

Niko Kruzel works as a Budtender at Burnside Buds, a cannabis dispensary located in Victoria, BC. After months of dealing with issues regarding scheduling, inconsistent and low pay, and lack of health benefits, Kruzel and fellow Budtenders decided to contact a union organizer for the BC Budtender Union, a cannabis-focused division of UFCW 1518.

Kruzel started working at Burnside Buds in May 2021. Prior to unionizing, he had never received a write-up or formal reprimand. Three days after the employees voted to unionize, the store owner fired Kruzel through text message. The employer cited ‘lack of trust’ and ‘poor work ethic’ as reasons for the firing.

I’m excited to be back on the team that banded together to unionize

“I was surprised and shocked to get that late-night text,” said Kruzel. “It felt like a knee-jerk reaction from the employer and showed they didn’t know a lot about running a business.”

In the following days, the owner removed snacks from the staff room and reduced the employee discount.

The union filed a complaint with the BC Labour Relations Board (LRB). The complaint stated that Burnside fired Kruzel unlawfully and took away the staff snacks to retaliate against the union supporters.

“Union busting is all too common in retail, and frankly, it’s childish,” says Eric Nordal, a BC Budtender Organizer. “Some employers try everything to prevent workers from joining a union, like coercing, intimidating, taking away benefits, or straight-up lying. Luckily, here in BC, this is illegal, and we do have avenues to fight back.”

Fired budtender headed back to work

After UFCW 1518 took the complaint to the LRB, Burnside agreed to reinstate Kruzel, refill the snacks, and reinstate a 20% employee discount. Kruzel will be heading back to work this Friday.

“I’m excited to be back on the team that banded together to unionize and that looks out for each other when the employer doesn’t,” said Kruzel. “I’m looking forward to future negotiations and to serving people, as I’ve always done.”

Burnside Budtenders will now begin bargaining their first contract where they will fight for a living wage, health benefits and more.

Workers at non-unionized cannabis stores can learn more about the benefits of joining a union at ufcw1518.com/cannabis.