‘Stand up to corporate:’ Cannabis dispensary employees vote to form union
For Thomas Hooper, the grass wasn’t always greener.
In April 2022, Hooper went to work for Nature’s Medicines, a cannabis dispensary with shops in Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Mexico, at its newly-opened location at 3119 Cranberry Highway.
He saw the East Wareham location as his chance to get into the cannabis industry.
“Aside from smoking it,” Hooper said, “I didn’t know too much about cannabis.”
Hooper is Nature’s Medicines’s lead personal service provider. He is responsible for helping consumers decide what strain of cannabis and method of consumption suits their needs.
Over time, Hooper and his coworkers became disillusioned by Nature’s Medicines’s lack of benefits, sick leave and workplace protections for its employees.
Their $16 an hour wage, Hooper said, “doesn’t cut it, especially with rent so high.”
Hooper wanted better for his coworkers, so they decided to, in Hooper’s words, “stand up to corporate.”
On Jan. 4, employees at the East Wareham location voted 6-3 to unionize, joining the United Food and Commercial Workers Local Union 328. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union is the largest representative of cannabis workers nationwide.
“We are all in a better mood since the vote,” said Adam Ellis, who has worked as a personal service provider at Nature’s Medicines for four months. “We were lacking a liveable wage and better health insurance, and we also lacked job security.”
Hooper was inspired to form a union after seeing other cannabis dispensaries do the same.
“Other dispensaries across the country are unionizing,” Ellis said, “and we are just another in the trend.”
On Oct. 21, 2022, Nature’s Medicines employees delivered a signed letter to their general manager and regional manager, asking them to recognize their union. The managers declined to do so.
“We were disappointed when they refused to recognize us,” Ellis said, “but we had a feeling it would happen and were prepared for it.”
Ellis said that management “made a lot of excuses that made no sense” and tried to “pit [workers] against each other,” offering jobs that could not be unionized.
“The company tried to tell us that we’re a family, and that we can talk about this,” Hooper said. “But what kind of family only shows up after we say we’re going to unionize, but was radio silent in the months leading up to it?”
Management told workers to form a contract with them instead of forming a union, but Hooper was skeptical.
“Who’s to say that they don’t give us what we want, and then let us all go?” He said. “The union prevents that.”
Massachusetts, like most states, has at-will employment. Workers can be fired at any time for almost any reason.
“I love my job,” Hooper said. “I don’t want to leave it, but living in Massachusetts, I can be let go without reason, so I can’t just ask for better wages without the risk of losing my job.”
Employees organized weekly meetings to discuss how to form the union and persuade coworkers who did not want to unionize. They then set a letter to the state government, which selected Jan. 4 as the date of the union vote.
The union is still deciding what it will ask of management, but better pay and increased sick leave are top priorities.
The general manager of Nature’s Medicines in East Wareham was not immediately available for comment.