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The Pot that Poked the Bear



One of California's most powerful cannabis trade groups began backtracking this week after poking one of state politics' biggest bears: organized labor.

The fallout started when the California Cannabis Industry Association issued a "white paper" to its members — which include industry giants like Poseidon Asset Management, Arcview Group, Weedmaps and Harborside Health Center, as well as a few Humboldt County outfits, including Papa + Barkley and Humboldt's Finest. The paper offered tips for cannabis business owners looking to negotiate labor peace agreements but, in the eyes of three of the state's largest unions, came across as decidedly anti-union.

In response, the California Labor Federation, the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council and the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council penned a letter to the California Democratic Caucus asking that it "refrain from engaging with the association for the time being," essentially urging lawmakers to freeze the cannabis association out of capitol business. If that wasn't severe enough, the move comes just as the cannabis industry is beginning a concerted push to reform tax laws it says are crippling growth.

State law requires that cannabis businesses with 20 or more employees enter into labor peace agreements, which are essentially pledges that both sides will approach labor negotiations amicably. For business owners, that means they will refrain from any union busting activity and allow union representatives to meet with their staffs. For employees, that means agreeing not to strike and picket, so long as the business holds up its end of the bargain.

"The common belief is LPAs make it substantially more likely a union will successfully organize employees and represent them in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement," the white paper reads. "If that happens, a cannabis employer will encounter decreased flexibility and increased costs in operating their business and administering the collective bargaining relationship."

The paper goes on to specifically warn business owners to limit language expanding union representatives' ability to enter company property and giving them access to employee contact information.

"We view this document as a piece of anti-union literature which undermines and weakens California's requirements to enshrine labor peace as a condition of licensure in the cannabis industry," the three unions wrote in their Feb. 12 letter to lawmakers. "Our organizations do not recognize CCIA as a legitimate partner in the cannabis industry."

The letter goes on to state that the unions were willing to offer a list of employers and other cannabis trade groups that "have shown a willingness to work collaboratively with labor."

Marijuana Business Daily reported that, according to Teamsters Public Affairs Council Legislative Advocate Matt Broad, the list includes the Humboldt County Growers Alliance, among others.

"We are focused on the policies that will help the cannabis industry survive today and flourish tomorrow, and we enjoy our relationship with labor and others because when we work together, we can solve big problems," said Alliance Executive Director Terra Carver.

CCIA, for its part, quickly backtracked from the white paper, with Executive Director Lindsay Robinson saying it was never intended to be "anti-union," adding that it was retracting any statements that "may have been misleading."

"The moment CCIA was notified of labor's concerns, we immediately removed this document from our website," Robinson wrote in a letter to the Democratic caucus.

How much lasting damage this dust up caused remains to be seen. But if lawmakers feel pressed to choose between labor and cannabis, well, they likely won't see that as much of a choice at all. After all, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.72 million workers are unionized in the Golden State, about 16.5 percent of its workforce.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor and prefers he/him pronouns. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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