Mark A. Espinosa

When people think of union careers, they think factories, meat packing plants, and grocery stores. They think of the electrical workers, iron workers, and their path from an apprenticeship to a lifelong career. Now, there is a new wave of workers in the United States paving the way in a new industry, with its own pathway from apprenticeship program to career: cannabis.

For more than a decade, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has been proud to help lead the development and stabilization of the emerging cannabis industry through our innovative Cannabis Workers Rising campaign. A wave of new workers excited to have union representation and a voice in the workplace has swept the nation in states like California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. We are America’s Cannabis Union.

We have worked on legislation in several states, including Connecticut, to ensure that these workers in this new industry have a fair chance to join a union without interference from their employer through negotiated labor peace agreements.

A labor peace agreement is an arrangement between an employer and a union in which one or both sides agree to waive certain rights with regard to union organizing and related activity. The essential purposed these agreements is to compel employers to grant organizing concessions. In exchange, workers promise not to strike, picket or otherwise disrupt business operations. Typical employer concessions can include allowing union organizers into the workplace, refraining from expressing negative opinions about a union and intervening in an organizing campaign, and recognizing a union based on signed cards rather than by the results of a secret ballot election.

Most importantly, labor peace agreements restore the balance of power between workers and employers. They give workers a voice in the workplace and a choice to join a union — and we know that when given the opportunity in a neutral environment, workers are far more likely to opt into union membership.

Union contracts give workers the ability to negotiate better wages, affordable healthcare, and a secure retirement, resulting in well-paid, safe, family-sustaining jobs for Connecticut. The UFCW also has a free college program for union members and their dependents, which creates the opportunity for members to advance in their field or continue a career elsewhere. A union contract comes with job protection and sense of security. They level the playing field and provide equal opportunities for women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, veterans, people with disabilities and other marginalized communities.

The newly created Social Equity Council, formed after Senate Bill 1201 passed in June, was developed to guarantee that the adult-use cannabis program is grown equitably, and ensures that funds from the adult-use cannabis program are brought back to the communities hit hardest by the “war on drugs.” The Social Equity Council has defined workforce development standards that focus on wage growth, job promotion, and advancement for workers in the industry, all of which come from a unionized workforce. We are excited and hopeful for the future of the cannabis industry in Connecticut and look forward to the skilled jobs created thanks to this new legislation.

The UFCW now represents tens of thousands of cannabis workers across the United States in dispensaries, labs, delivery, kitchens, manufacturing, processing, grow facilities and more — helping workers secure better wages, protection from unfair discipline, and great benefits safeguarded under a union contract.

Our nationwide Joint Apprenticeship Training Program (JATC) is the only one of its kind. It partners with UFCW local unions and employers across the United States and Canada. The UFCW’s JATC cannabis apprenticeship programs, from seed to sale, will train cannabis workers and set the standards nationally for the industry. These programs will also help to ensure that cannabis jobs mean living wage jobs, pathways to advancement, and equity, especially for marginalized communities.

A message to cannabis workers in Connecticut- the time is now. Come together for a voice in the workplace. Stand up for yourself, your coworkers, and your future. Cannabis jobs can become careers. You hold the power to join your coworkers across the country who are coming together to make their jobs better. Together with the UFCW and our 1.3 million members nationwide, you too will have the training, tools, voice, and dignity on the job that you deserve.

Mark A. Espinosa has been a labor leader for over 36 years and is President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 919 located in Farmington, Connecticut. Local 919 represents 7,000 workers in the State of Connecticut in a variety of industries.

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