Latest BC Budtenders contract shows how the green movement has matured
When the frontline budtenders at Seed & Stone ratified their first collective agreement last week, they didn’t just introduce impressive wage increases and improvements to one store. They brought radical change to three stores! As a result, all workers, present and future, who pass through their doors from here on, will benefit from this deal, which they can continue to improve in subsequent rounds of negotiations.
Some of the significant wins in the agreement include:
- Higher starting rates (an increase of about 15%)
- Hourly scale with guaranteed wage increases
- Improvements to breaks and scheduling
- A grievance process and shop-steward language
One staff member, who was a leading voice in the first Seed & Stone organizing drive (at the Victoria Fort Street location), credits their incredible contract to the diversity of voices at the table. He said it was a big “morale boost” when the workers from the Delta location joined the union and sat with them at the bargaining table.
“They came to the table with their own energy and their own solidarity,” he says, “which kind of decentralized our movement and made things more threatening for the company and easier, from a solidarity standpoint, knowing that we were independently on the same page.”
By combining forces, workers from the Fort St., Gordon St., and Delta locations maximized their power. But this consolidation only worked because of the mobilizing that each store had done on its own prior to bargaining. In this way, The BC Budtenders Union, while still relatively young, is returning the labour movement to its roots. By decentralizing power, they’ve strengthened their unity and crystalized shared goals.
This power is evidenced in the high engagement at these shops. More dialogue and idea-sharing from everyone fosters community consciousness. What will raise everyone up, equally? This question was at the heart of the Delta organizing drive.
“What personally kept me going was the fact that many of my coworkers depend on this job to be able to afford food, housing, pay bills etc.,” says one member on the mainland. “Seeing how hard each of them work day in and out, I knew we needed things to change.”
Survival instincts often kickstart organizing drives. However, with widespread unionizing, workers can attain the resources that they need to push for more than the bare minimum (and win). One Seed & Stone budtender, who sat on the bargaining team, calls this phenomenon the “leapfrog effect.”
When a new worksite negotiates a contract, “we don’t get a lap around everyone but a few more steps [ahead],” the worker says. “Then the next contract, for either us or another company, gets a few more steps, and with more and more staff who are actualized, activated, and caring about their rights, organizing, and agitating…the quicker we’re all going to improve our industry.”
This change isn’t just theory. It’s happening. Almost three-quarters of the private cannabis retail shops in Victoria are unionized, and now that the Seed & Stone deal is complete, all boast a worker-centric collective agreement – each one better than the next.
Now that the workers at Seed & Stone have a deal with their employer, the next phase of their mobilizing begins. As one budtender puts it, “A contract is great, but it really takes them getting to know that contract and know what their rights are so that they can use it.”
Typically, workers who are the most adept at leveraging their contract have done deep organizing. This is a type of organizing that takes patience and relies on more than just meeting quotas (i.e. simply signing enough union cards to certify with a union). Deep organizing is about ensuring that workers fully understand that they are the union. What they get out of it depends on what they put in.
The Seed & Stone workers, for example, did not look to a UFCW 1518 staff representative to catalyze the change they desired. “I ended up hosting a meeting at my house last year where we discussed what we needed to change – what we wanted out of union representation,” says one of the worker organizers. “Then we had a union rep show up and give us the spiel about the process.” Early dialoguing and consensus-building were key to their success, and it’s this highly localized approach to activism that’s allowing the union to grow provincially.