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Two Marijuana Unionization Attempts Sprout After Another Dies in Denver

TweedLeaf's dispensary at 6299 Federal Boulevard.
TweedLeaf's dispensary at 6299 Federal Boulevard.
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While one unionization attempt by Denver marijuana cultivation workers has died, two more have since sprouted at dispensaries 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 production operations, voted in favor of certifying with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco, and Grain Millers Union Local 26 (BCTGM) chapter, and filed for approval with the National Labor Relations Board. If their campaign had been successful, the TweedLeaf workers would have been the first to unionize in Colorado's marijuana industry.

That attempt ended quickly, though, after the cultivation workers' NLRB application was voluntarily withdrawn the next month. But the BCTGM  group then filed two more certification applications on behalf of employees at TweedLeaf's two Denver stores, according to NLRB case files. TweedLeaf CEO John Kaweske confirms the unionization bids at two TweedLeaf locations and says a new union is now leading the charge.

Nic Hochstedler, the BCTGM representative who led the first effort to unionize at TweedLeaf, says his organization is no longer involved after being asked to step aside by a Denver chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Hochstedler wouldn't explain why that initial effort ended, or why the BCTGM stepped aside. The UFCW Local 7 chapter confirms that TweedLeaf employees are now working with that union, but declines further comment "until it's done."

The UFCW has experience representing marijuana workers in other states that have legalized pot, and has been involved in previous attempts at cannabis-related unionization in Colorado. In 2017, workers for growing facilities owned by the Rocky Mountain High dispensary chain voted in favor of joining the UFCW, but withdrew that bid in 2018. Pueblo dispensary workers tried to join the UFCW in 2016, but that attempt failed amid allegations of management bullying and union-busting tactics.

Retail workers likely have a better shot at NLRB approval than grow house employees did, as marijuana businesses, including TweedLeaf, often argue that grow house and trim work is agricultural labor, which is exempt from federal labor protections. The State of Colorado doesn't recognize agricultural worker unions, either, though a bill in the Colorado Legislature would change that. The proposal, which is currently moving slowly through the state Senate, includes protections for marijuana grow workers, but only if 50 percent of work property is used for horticulture purposes.

Based in Colorado Springs, TweedLeaf currently owns eight dispensaries, five cultivations and two extraction facilities in Colorado; it acquired the Denver cultivation and dispensaries from Universal Herbs late last year. According to Kaweske, the first unionization attempt came shortly after the transition began and layoffs took place.

Worker claims at the time included little to no health-care benefits, unfit drinking water, and trimmers being forced to stand during working hours. Kaweske contested or denied those claims.

"I'm not a big believer in a lot of coincidences," he says. "With the acquisition, some people lost their jobs. I have a feeling that a particular person is stirring up trouble."

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