Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Labor Unions See Growth Potential in California Pot Workers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Labor Unions See Growth Potential in California Pot Workers

Article excerpt

GOSHEN, Calif. * Unions have caught a whiff of a rare opportunity to organize a whole new set of workers as recreational marijuana becomes legal in California.

The United Farm Workers, Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers are looking to unionize the tens of thousands of potential workers involved in the legal weed game, from planters to rollers to sellers. The move could provide a boost to organized labor's lagging membership if infighting doesn't get in the way.

The United Farm Workers, co-founded by iconic labor leader Cesar Chavez, says organizing an industry rooted in agriculture is a natural fit, and growers could label their products with the union's logo as a marketing strategy.

"If you're a cannabis worker, the UFW wants to talk with you," national vice president Armando Elenes said.

But United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents grocery store employees, meat packers and retail workers, registered its intent to organize cannabis workers across the country.

"We would hope they respect our jurisdiction," UFCW spokesman Jeff Ferro said.

Teamsters organizer Kristin Heidelbach said there's no need for unions to battle each other. There will be plenty of workers needing representation as small cannabis businesses run by "happy stoner" types give way to large pharmaceutical corporations, she said.

The green rush that begins in 2018 is an opportunity for unions to regain influence that began declining in the late 1950s, said David Zonderman, a professor of labor history at North Carolina State University. But discord between unions could upend it, as could resistance from cannabis business leaders.

Last year, California voters approved sales of recreational marijuana to those 21 and older at licensed shops beginning Jan. 1.

Cannabis in California already is a $22 billion industry, including medical marijuana and a black market that accounts for most of that total, according to University of California, Davis, agriculture economist Philip Martin. …

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