Labor Board: Most Cannabis Employees are Agricultural Workers, Cannot Unionize

The National Labor Relations Board ruled that, under federal restrictions, most cannabis industry workers cannot form unions because they are considered agricultural workers.

Full story after the jump.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that most cannabis industry workers can’t form unions because they qualify as agricultural workers. The case was brought to the agency when workers at AgriKind’s Chester, Pennsylvania cultivation facility attempted to unionize with United Food and Commercial Workers 1776, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report.

“We conclude that although the two employees work in indoor grow rooms akin to greenhouses, which the Board has previously distinguished from traditional exempt agricultural work, they are exempt because they each substantially engage in the primary agricultural functions of harvesting, pruning, and sorting of plants.” – NLRB in a decision dated Oct. 21, 2020 via MJBizDaily

In the decision, the labor board determined that because the two workers did not “significantly transform the natural product from its raw state,” they were ineligible for union protection.

Wendell Young, the president of the UFCW 1776, said the decision is an attempt by the agency to “change the law.” Young pointed to precedent set in the mushroom industry which is allowed to unionize in Pennsylvania under a 2001 court ruling.

“So, we will follow through with this case to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board,” Young told the Inquirer. “Workers who are exempt under the NLRB are usually covered by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.”

Agrikind CEO Jon Cohn indicated that the company employs about 70 employees, mostly full time, with plans to hire about 60 more during an upcoming expansion.

“We don’t want the atmosphere here to be management versus labor,” Cohn said in the report. “Granted, we’ve grown really fast and had a ton of turnover. That’s caused some pains. People think growing cannabis is going to be glamorous but it’s really hard work.”

Last October, the Regional Director of the NLRB for Region 1 came to the same conclusion – that most cannabis industry workers are agricultural laborers – but could unionize in states that allow sector employees the right.

The decision stemmed from the UFCW 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 federal National Labor Relations Act.

Neither decision appears to prohibit retail employees, such as budtenders and delivery drivers, from forming unions under federal law.

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