Feds Say Cannabis Employees are ‘Agricultural Laborers,’ May Unionize Under State Law

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that the majority of workers at a cannabis cultivation/processing facility are considered “agriculture laborers” under federal law — in some states, such as Massachusetts, this opens up cannabis workers to unionizing under state law.

Full story after the jump.

The Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for Region 1 – which covers most of New England – has found that the majority of employees at a cannabis cultivation and processing facility are “agricultural laborers” under the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and, therefore, not subject to federal labor laws related to unionizing, according to a JD Supra report.

The decision allows labor unions to organize workers under Massachusetts law rather than federal law. Under Massachusetts law, union recognition uses a simple card check. Agricultural workers are exempt from federal labor laws but some states – including Massachusetts – cover farmworkers, while other states deny unionization rights altogether to such employees.

The decision stems from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1445’s, push to organize the cannabis cultivation and processing facility at New England Treatment Access’s (NETA) Franklin, Massachusetts facility. The union sought to unionize the employees under Massachusetts labor laws through the “card-check” method of organization instead of the secret ballot process required by the NLRA. NETA argued that the cultivation and processing employees were not agricultural laborers and were subject to the NLRA.

Following a review of the company’s processes, the regional director determined that workers involved in cultivation, growing, and harvesting – “primary agriculture” – and those employees working in roles closely related to primary agriculture – “secondary agriculture” – were exempt from federal labor law under the NLRA.

The director also determined that workers involved in research and development, and data analysis, were non-agricultural employees.

The decision allows a union to obtain agricultural worker recognition once it has obtained authorization cards signed by a majority of workers in a bargaining unit. Card signing often happens without employer knowledge and employers might not be aware of the effort until they are presented with the demand for union recognition.

The NLRB decision could influence cannabis-related decisions in other regions if petitions are brought to the board.

Just this year, workers at NETA, Sira Naturals, Mayflower Medicinals, Cultivate Holdings, and Curaleaf, have either voted to join a labor union or ratified a union contract. UFCW Local 1445 – which brought the petition to the NLRB – have organized workers at Mayflower, Cultivate, NETA, and Sira.

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