San Jose spotlight: San Jose cannabis dispensary becomes the first to unionize in South Bay

by Katie Lauer
August 16, 2019

San Jose is now home to the South Bay’s first unionized cannabis dispensary.

An announcement just after noon on Friday at San Jose City Hall detailed the partnership between MedMen and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 union.

This will be an expansion of the union partnership into the South Bay, as MedMen signed its first collective bargaining agreement with UFCW Local 770 to represent its Los Angeles employees earlier this year. The cannabis retailer has operations across the U.S. and flagship stores in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York.

UFCW Strategic Campaign Director Jim Araby told San José Spotlight on Thursday that the goal is to set a standard for the rest of the expanding industry.

“(MedMen) has decided that partnering with unions is the way best way to shape the industry moving forward,” Araby said. “Point to another private sector industry that a potentially big player in an emerging market has decided that it’s better to partner with labor than to fight it.”

Union membership at the dispensary, located at 1075 N 10th St. in San Jose, includes nearly $3 above minimum wage in California, two-weeks vacation, a 40 percent employee discount, overtime wage premiums, 10 recognized holidays off and time-and-a-half pay for anyone working on a holiday.

Alongside a guaranteed 40 hour work week for full-time employees and 20 hours for part-time workers, the company also provides fully paid health benefits for eligible employees, including those who work part-time.

MedMen San Jose employee Hannah Bass said she was excited to be a part of the union, for both the benefits it brings herself and the cannabis industry as a whole.

“It’s really exciting to be a part of the standard of legislation for cannabis partners,” Bass said. “It’s great to be a part of MedMen, who really wants to take a stance and leadership role in this.”

In addition to looking forward to her benefits, including shares in company stock, she said joining the union was an easy step that other, smaller dispensaries shouldn’t be afraid to follow.

“The union is there to help you,” she said. “It’s more about stability and a standard of care to let you know that your voice is being heard.”

But this deal – while a first locally – is actually a California state law requirement. The 2017 Medicinal and Adult Use of Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act requires labor peace agreements in place for any business with 20 or more workers that wants to get a state cannabis license.

Some San Jose lawmakers want to double the number of licensed pot shops in the city – which is currently 16 licensed operators. San Jose Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Magdalena Carrasco see this kind of partnership as a desired standard while ensuring compliance with the law.

“While the cannabis industry is taking a turn from infancy to a billion dollar business in California, I’m happy to see that our workers will be sharing in that process,” Carrasco said. “We’re delivering on a promise made to our voters, that those employees would be under labor peace agreements.”

Peralez agreed.

“As San Jose continues to thrive economically through the cannabis industry, we must ensure that its workforce is well represented in an ethical and responsible manner,” he said. “With this collective bargaining agreement, MedMen demonstrates a responsibility toward their workers, ensuring they can earn livable wages, have access to benefits and have representation through unionization.”

In addition to providing protections for wages and benefits, Araby said unions can lend a helping hand to the current fight for equity across all levels of the cannabis business. Especially after decades of a drug war, which put many people of color in prison for low level drug offenses such as selling marijuana, he said UFCW has focused efforts on getting those affected back into the industry, whether that’s through hosting expungement clinics or providing needed capital.

“I think there’s a greater responsibility for advocates like us and others to ensure that this happens,” Araby said. “How can you make it legal, and then not allow the folks that were really the entrepreneurs in some ways, to not have access to this legal market? Keeping them in prison or barring them from getting licenses, I think that’s very unfair. I think San Jose has a long way to go on that, and we are absolutely supportive.”

Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @klauer77 on Twitter.