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While one union attempt by marijuana growers in Denver died, two more have sprung up since then at pharmacies within the same company. And those efforts are still alive.
In February, workers for a growing operation owned by TweedLeaf, a network of marijuana stores and manufacturing operations, voted for certification with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union Local 26 (BCTGM) chapter and applied for approval from the National Labor Relations Board. If their campaign had been successful, TweedLeaf workers would have been the first to unionize in Colorado’s marijuana industry.
That attempt quickly ended, however, after the growers’ NLRB application was voluntarily withdrawn the next month. The BCTGM then filed two more certification applications on behalf of employees in TweedLeaf’s two Denver branches, according to Labor Relations Board files. John Kaweske, CEO of TweedLeaf, confirms union offers at two TweedLeaf locations, saying that a new union is now leading the charge.
Nic Hochstedler, the BCTGM representative who led the early union effort at TweedLeaf, says his organization was no longer involved after being asked to step aside by a Denver chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Hochstedler would not explain why this initial effort ended or why the BCTGM stepped aside. The UFCW Local 7 chapter acknowledges that TweedLeaf employees are now working with this union but declines further comments “until this is done”.
The UFCW has experience representing marijuana workers in other states that have legalized pot and has been involved in previous attempts by a union on cannabis-related issues in Colorado. In 2017, workers for the addition of Rocky Mountain High pharmacy chain facilities voted to join the UFCW, but withdrew that offer in 2018. Pueblo pharmacy workers attempted to join the UFCW in 2016, but that attempt failed amid allegations of management bullying and anti-union tactics.
Retail workers likely have a better chance of being approved by the NLRB than growers, as marijuana companies, including TweedLeaf, often argue that growing and trimming are agricultural workers who are exempt from federal labor protection. The state of Colorado also does not recognize farm workers’ unions, although a bill in Colorado law would change that. The proposal, which is currently moving slowly through the Senate, provides safeguards for marijuana growers, but only if 50 percent of the working property is used for horticultural purposes.
TweedLeaf is based in Colorado Springs and currently owns eight pharmacies, five growing areas, and two extraction facilities in Colorado. The company acquired the Denver annex and pharmacies from Universal Herbs late last year. According to Kaweske, the first union attempt came shortly after the transition and layoffs began.
The information provided by employees at the time included little to no health care benefits, unsuitable drinking water and trimmers that were forced to stop during working hours. Kaweske denied or denied these claims.
“I don’t believe in a lot of coincidences,” he says. “With the takeover, some people lost their jobs. I have a feeling that a certain person is causing trouble.”
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Thomas Mitchell has been writing about everything cannabis-related for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate, and general news en route to publications like the Republic of Arizona, Inman, and Fox Sports. He is currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.