United Food & Commercial Workers International union looks to organize cannabis industry. Credit: Christine Stuart

HARTFORD, CT  –  There are no cannabis employees yet to organize, but the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union is looking to be able to organize these workers as soon as they enter the door – starting with training programs. 

“We’re just getting ready for when the industry hits the ground running,” Ron Petronella, president of Local 371, said. 

The Department of Consumer Protection and the Social Equity Council are gathering applications from residents interested in growing, selling, and transporting the product. It’s unclear how quickly those licenses will be awarded, but retail locations are expected to be up and running before the end of the year. 

Mark Espinosa, president of Local 919, said they’ve been the voice for cannabis workers across the country for the past decade. 

“The United Food & Commercial Workers union is not new to this,” Espinosa said. “Our goals are to have the workers achieve some of the standards and benefits that usually only a collective bargaining agreement can produce. So they can remove themselves from this so-called gig economy.” 

Espinosa said the new apprenticeship and training program offered by the union will train workers “from seed to sale.” 

The programs will also ensure that cannabis jobs do mean living wages. 

A big part of the legalization effort was the creation of the Social Equity Council which will give deference to applicants from certain Census tracts with lower income levels. The goal is to make sure those impacted by the War on Drugs will benefit from the new regulated marketplace. 

Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said this is the pathway to “good middle-class jobs.” 

She said they already know there are going to be more people applying for these licenses than there are licenses to give out. 

“So there’s no question there’s going to be tremendous competition to come to Connecticut and establish themselves in the new cannabis industry,” Kushner said. 

The licensing process opened in January. 

“When we see there’s going to be new business for Connecticut, which we all want. When we see there are going to be tremendous profits generated, which we all want. We also want to know there’s a pathway for those workers to the middle class and we want to make sure these jobs in Connecticut are good jobs with good wages,” Kushner said. 

Petronella agreed. 

“Having a living wage and health insurance, I think, is kind of important,” he said.

The labor peace agreement means employers would give the union access to come in and talk to the employees about organizing. 

“When that happens and people are free to sign up they normally do,” Petronella said. 

He said they’re interested in the retail locations where there will be 60 to 70 employees and the grow operations where there will be fewer. He said the grow facilities are low labor because it’s generally lights, water and machines. 

In California and Washington, where cannabis has been legal for years, the workers are represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, Petronella said.