Unionized Cannabis is Not Just a Phase

Latest BC Budtenders contract shows how the green movement has matured 

When the frontline budtenders at Seed & Stone ratified their first collective agreement last week, they didn’t just introduce impressive wage increases and improvements to one store. They brought radical change to three stores! As a result, all workers, present and future, who pass through their doors from here on, will benefit from this deal, which they can continue to improve in subsequent rounds of negotiations.

Some of the significant wins in the agreement include:

  • Higher starting rates (an increase of about 15%) 
  • Hourly scale with guaranteed wage increases
  • Improvements to breaks and scheduling
  • A grievance process and shop-steward language

One staff member, who was a leading voice in the first Seed & Stone organizing drive (at the Victoria Fort Street location), credits their incredible contract to the diversity of voices at the table. He said it was a big “morale boost” when the workers from the Delta location joined the union and sat with them at the bargaining table.

“They came to the table with their own energy and their own solidarity,” he says, “which kind of decentralized our movement and made things more threatening for the company and easier, from a solidarity standpoint, knowing that we were independently on the same page.”

By combining forces, workers from the Fort St., Gordon St., and Delta locations maximized their power. But this consolidation only worked because of the mobilizing that each store had done on its own prior to bargaining. In this way, The BC Budtenders Union, while still relatively young, is returning the labour movement to its roots. By decentralizing power, they’ve strengthened their unity and crystalized shared goals.

This power is evidenced in the high engagement at these shops. More dialogue and idea-sharing from everyone fosters community consciousness. What will raise everyone up, equally? This question was at the heart of the Delta organizing drive.

“What personally kept me going was the fact that many of my coworkers depend on this job to be able to afford food, housing, pay bills etc.,” says one member on the mainland. “Seeing how hard each of them work day in and out, I knew we needed things to change.”

Survival instincts often kickstart organizing drives. However, with widespread unionizing, workers can attain the resources that they need to push for more than the bare minimum (and win). One Seed & Stone budtender, who sat on the bargaining team, calls this phenomenon the “leapfrog effect.”

When a new worksite negotiates a contract, “we don’t get a lap around everyone but a few more steps [ahead],” the worker says. “Then the next contract, for either us or another company, gets a few more steps, and with more and more staff who are actualized, activated, and caring about their rights, organizing, and agitating…the quicker we’re all going to improve our industry.”

This change isn’t just theory. It’s happening. Almost three-quarters of the private cannabis retail shops in Victoria are unionized, and now that the Seed & Stone deal is complete, all boast a worker-centric collective agreement – each one better than the next.

Now that the workers at Seed & Stone have a deal with their employer, the next phase of their mobilizing begins. As one budtender puts it, “A contract is great, but it really takes them getting to know that contract and know what their rights are so that they can use it.”

Typically, workers who are the most adept at leveraging their contract have done deep organizing. This is a type of organizing that takes patience and relies on more than just meeting quotas (i.e. simply signing enough union cards to certify with a union). Deep organizing is about ensuring that workers fully understand that they are the union. What they get out of it depends on what they put in.

The Seed & Stone workers, for example, did not look to a UFCW 1518 staff representative to catalyze the change they desired. “I ended up hosting a meeting at my house last year where we discussed what we needed to change – what we wanted out of union representation,” says one of the worker organizers. “Then we had a union rep show up and give us the spiel about the process.” Early dialoguing and consensus-building were key to their success, and it’s this highly localized approach to activism that’s allowing the union to grow provincially.

If you are a budtender or work in a grow-op and are interested in joining a union, learn more at ufcw1518.com/cannabis or contact an organizer today.

Members Celebrate Bargaining Success at Seed & Stone Cannabis

Budtenders and staff at three Seed & Stone cannabis shops are celebrating this week, after unanimously voting in favour of their first collective agreement, which will introduce several protections and workplace improvements into the Victoria and Delta dispensaries. The news comes just one week after members of the same union ratified a first contract at two Farm Dispensary locations.

Staff employed at the Seed & Stone Victoria shops joined the BC Budtenders Union – a division of the UFCW 1518 – in 2021. In 2022, workers at the Delta location got mobilized and joined their coworkers, strengthening the union’s power at the bargaining table.

“There’s a reason that 75 percent of the private dispensaries in Victoria have organized with us,” says UFCW 1518 Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson. “Cannabis workers are realizing that with a union they have a voice, and the more of them that join the movement, the more power they can build.”

By bargaining together, these unionists were able to maximize pressure on the employer and come to an agreement on life-changing workplace improvements, including:

  • Higher starting rates (an increase of about 15%)  
  • Hourly scale with guaranteed wage increases
  • Improvements to breaks and scheduling
  • A grievance process and shop-steward language 

“With this contract, the Seed & Stone staff have achieved a fairer and much more respectful workplace,” says Johnson. “Moving forward, they can expect safer working conditions, more opportunities to have a say in how they’re treated, as well as better wages.”

Now that the Seed & Stone deal is ratified, every dispensary in Victoria with BC-Budtenders-Union representation boasts a collective agreement. Across stores, members have revolutionized the industry. As the union grows, diversifies and ages, the standard that they set is only going to get higher.

“Organizing can be a bit intimidating,” Johnson admits, “but their courage pays off, if they stay united. The Seed & Stone staff are a perfect example of how far a calculated risk can carry you. By taking the plunge and organizing, they learned what they’re capable of, then they brought that confidence to the bargaining table and won big.”

The BC Budtender Union is excited for mainland cannabis workers to expand their organizing efforts. This work is already underway; just today, workers at Yaletown Cannabis Store in Vancouver formed a union with the BC Budtenders division. It takes a lot of passion and persistence to launch a movement, but it all starts with a phone call or an email. If you are a cannabis worker in retail or grow-ops, contact UFCW 1518 today.

First Private-Sector Cannabis Retail Workers on Mainland Unionize

B.C. Bud Union Crops Up in Vancouver as Eggs Canna Staff Seek Fairness

VANCOUVER – Workers at an East Hastings cannabis shop are venturing into green territory after a union vote last week. Together, staff decided to join the BC Budtenders Union – a division of the UFCW 1518 – making them the first private-sector retail workers in the cannabis industry to unionize on the mainland.

UFCW 1518 currently represents growers at the Potanicals greenhouse in Peachland, but Eggs Canna marks the progressive union’s first organizing drive at a mainland dispensary.

UFCW 1518 Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson sees this latest grassroots achievement as proof that workers can be the loudest voice in the room and guide a whole industry, even one as coveted as cannabis.

“To put it into perspective, recreational cannabis was only legalized in 2018,” he says. “Profiteers obviously jumped to stake their claim and capitalize on this new market. But they weren’t the only ones to move quick. From the moment the first shops started opening in Victoria, frontline staff looked for ways to improve their working conditions and to have a say in how the industry was run.”

Fast forward four years and 70% of the for-profit cannabis shops in the capital city have unionized. Today, we’re excited to get behind the Budtenders at Eggs Canna and start to organize around Vancouver. Workers have been at the forefront of this industry from its inception, shapeshifting cannabis to benefit their communities, and their influence is only growing. These folks are unstoppable.”

Like so many British Columbians hired to sell cannabis products in the ever-expanding boutique bud industry, staff at Eggs Canna are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about cannabis. They care about the product, the customer experience, and the community they serve. The Eggs Canna website proudly states “We don’t hire budtenders, we train Cannaseurs.”

The workers want their pay, benefits, respect, and overall working conditions to reflect this high-level training. Ultimately, they want fairness. With UFCW 1518, Eggs Canna employees and their fellow BC Bud members are poised to raise industry standards.

Unionized Budtender Movement Expanding Across BC

Johnson also sees Eggs Canna staff’s success as an opening for more workers to join the movement, especially in large-scale private growing operations.

“At every point along the cannabis supply chain, workers deserve a voice,” he says. “Everyone that works with cannabis plays an integral role in its production process. From its growth to its distribution, sale, delivery, and eventually consumption, pot must serve everyday people. Workers can ensure it does by unionizing.”

UFCW 1518 represents 26,000+ workers in retail, grocery, food production, home care and more. The union continues to grow and represents some of the youngest and most diverse workers in B.C. If you are interested in joining the BC Budtenders Union, check out our website.

More Original Farm Budtenders join UFCW 1518, Smoking out Boss’s Anti-Union Campaign. 

New members will bargain alongside Victoria coworkers for a first contract. 

The staff at Original Farm’s Hillside cannabis dispensary in Victoria care about their community — a lot. 

“There’s so much emotional work that goes into what we do,” says one worker at the shop. “I’ve had customers that come in and they have a breakdown halfway through our conversation…I feel for them so deeply,” but the hardworking staff can only support customers fully if the employer supports them. Up to now, Original Farm workers have not felt supported. 

“The fact that we’re not capable of being able to talk openly about that sort of stuff,” is a problem the Hillside employee explains, and it’s one of many reasons staff decided to harness their collective power and unionize this year. 

The 14 workers joined the BC Budtenders Union last week, after a successful certification vote that came on the heels of a not-so-successful employer campaign to stop the organizing drive. Hillside staff didn’t budge when Original Farm pushed back; they just raised their voices even higher and remained committed to building social justice from the shop floor up. 

They’re not the only ones celebrating either. Budtenders at the downtown Victoria shop joined UFCW 1518 last year, and thanks to a worker-led effort to win a common employer application for these two groups, Hillside members and Downtown members will bargain their first collective agreement together. 

More voices mean more power for these cannabis connoisseurs to create the change they want, need, and deserve. For too long, Hillside staff have suffered chronic short-staffing, high management turnover, job insecurity, and more. 

“Trying to work in that environment feels like you’re at the edge of a sandbank cliff,” the worker adds. 

These members are determined to rebuild that sinking foundation on a culture of care by applying the frontline expertise that they use every day. In bargaining the team plans to prioritize several workplace improvements, including: 

  • Better compensation and health benefits, including living wages that reflect their specialized and challenging work and keeps up with rising rent.
  • Protections against budtender burnout. 
  • Protection against bullying and sexual harassment.
  • Equity-building language (including protections against nepotism).
  • Integrating mental health awareness programs and tools into the shop for staff and customers.

Across Victoria, UFCW 1518 members are re-inventing the cannabis industry with innovative and aspirational contract language, such as employer-paid cannabis sommelier training and tasting discounts. Our union is proud and excited to welcome our newest members to this growing movement, which covers close to 70 percent of cannabis retailers in Victoria. 

Like the workers at all these shops, Hillside staff have been breathing life into the cannabis industry all through the pandemic, interacting with customers, building product knowledge, and creating a comfortable environment for Victorians. They are the experts on their work, and they should have a real say in their working conditions, because when they do, the whole community benefits. 

“I grew up in Victoria and am really proud to have an opportunity like this to help my community grow,” says one Bud Union member. “Cannabis workers were dealt a rough hand through the process of legalization, and it feels wonderful not only to have the opportunity to advocate for ourselves, but to clear a path and set higher advocacy standards for future workers.” 

If you are a cannabis worker and would like to learn more about joining a union, check out the BC Budtender Homepage.  

Workers at Trees Cannabis Vote to Join the BC Budtenders’ Union

Budtenders and Supervisors at the Trees Cannabis retail locations in Victoria, BC (Lekwungen Territory) have voted to join the BC Budtenders’ Union, and UFCW Local 1518.

As the cannabis industry adapts to legalization, and the business model changes, this is a critical time to shape how the industry will look for workers. Trees Cannabis has been at the forefront of change in this industry, and we know that improvements that we make to working conditions here will have a ripple effect on Victoria’s other cannabis retail businesses that have always followed close behind.

As budtenders, we want to be compensated for the skilled labour we provide. The costs of living in this city have skyrocketed, and it is becoming unreasonable to afford to live in Victoria. At the same time, there is a worry that as new business interests enter BC’s cannabis industry, they will push down wages and working conditions.

“We are required to have a deep understanding of the cannabis plant, and must provide compassionate customer service,” Kate, a Trees Cannabis supervisor, explained. “Working as a budtender is skilled and professional work. All budtenders should be paid a living wage, receive ongoing education, and have the collective bargaining power to shape how our work is done.”

Many of us were a part of this industry during the legacy market eras. We feel a strong connection to this work and the industry that was built from our labour. The cannabis sector has been largely represented by marginalized communities who risked criminal records in exchange for higher-wage work. Now that we see the legalization of the industry, it is incredibly important to us that budtending is safe for all workers, including the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities that make up the workforce, and properly accommodates and includes workers with various accessibility requirements.

At Trees Cannabis, budtenders and supervisors spent weeks having conversations amongst each other about the benefits of joining a union and voted in favour on June 18th, 2021. Trees Cannabis workers are looking forward to legally protected job security, access to education and benefits, and earning living wages so that there is a future in this industry that we can look forward to.

Approved by the Trees Workers’ Organizing Committee

More and more budtenders are joining the BC Bud Union. Budtenders and cannabis-industry workers interested in winning improvements at their workplace can learn more and join at ufcw1518.com/cannabis.

UFCW 1518 Welcomes Cannabis Industry Workers from the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club

UFCW 1518 is excited to welcome budtenders from the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club this spring.

Workers at the historic medical cannabis dispensary have won job protections and paid staff meetings while they discuss a future contract with their employer. The budtenders, the employer, and the union provided input to create a unique temporary agreement while the dispensary seeks a medical cannabis licence.

“We’re excited to advocate on behalf of the workers at VCBC and support their non-profit’s push to become a licensed medical cannabis distributor,” said UFCW 1518 President Kim Novak.

The union and workers will begin negotiating workplace improvements with the employer over the next few months. Once a tentative collective agreement is in place, the workers will be able to vote over whether to accept the contract and retain their union representation.

In the past, BC BUD members have bargained for and won increased wages, cannabis sommelier training, enhanced store security, and other major improvements to their contracts.

Cannabis industry workers who are interested in joining a union and building more power at their workplace can learn more at ufcw1518.com/cannabis

Clarity Cannabis Budtenders Organized and Won Big

Budtenders at Clarity Cannabis ratified their first collective agreement on February 25 that will usher in major wage and workplace improvements.

Clarity Cannabis budtenders became the first private dispensary workers in Canada to unionize when they joined UFCW 1518 in 2019. These workers came together to confront low wages, poor treatment, and a lack of benefits, training, and educational opportunities in the cannabis industry, forming the BCBUD division last year.

An overwhelming 85% of members voted in favour of the improvements. These workers negotiated their contract throughout the COVID-19 crisis and were the first private dispensary to earn Pandemic Pay for their essential work. They continually demonstrated unity and solidarity throughout the organizing and bargaining process to arrive at their new contract.

“I joined the union to help grow protections and benefits for workers looking to build a future doing what they love,” said budtender Emma Riderelli. With this newly ratified contract, workers at Clarity Cannabis have a bright future to look forward to in an industry they care about.

The Clarity Cannabis collective agreement features significant improvements and will secure more power for the workers. Some highlights of the contract include:

  • Wage Increases: All employees will receive a wage increase between $1.25 (7.8%) and $2.50 (16.6%) per hour.
  • Scheduled raises: New budtenders will start at $17.00 per hour and receive regular $0.25 pay increases up to $19.25. New supervisors will start at $17.50 with a top rate of $19.75.
    *As of ratification, no employee at unionized Clarity Cannabis locations will be making less than $17.25 per hour.
  • Lump Sums: A one-time, retroactive lump sum bonus that is estimated to be between $700-$2700.
  • Cannabis Sommelier Training: All employees who pass their probationary period and who work an average of 16 hours per week will be entitled to enroll in cannabis sommelier training to be paid for by the employer (up to $300). Workers will receive their regular hourly pay for all hours in the training program.
  • Tasting and Store Discount: Budtenders will be eligible to purchase up to 30 grams of non-medical cannabis per day at Liquor Distribution Branch prices (approximately 30% less than retail) for all new product strains that are on weekly special.
  • Benefits: All benefits will be restored for unionized Clarity Cannabis employees.
  • Paid Sick Days: For the first time, up to 5 paid sick days per year with no requirement to provide a doctor’s note.
  • Paid breaks:paid 30-minute meal break after 4 hours of work and a paid 15-minute break for shifts over 6 hours.
  • Certification and Licensing: Guaranteed, employer-paid reimbursement for all licensing and certification required for the selling of non-medical cannabis including Selling it Right and Worker Security Verification.
  • Increased Vacation:1-week increase in paid vacation for any employee with over 4 years of experience.
  • Uniforms: All unionized employees will be paid $0.07 per hour to help cover the costs of doing laundry. Budtenders will now have a say in any new uniform design!
  • Designated Days Off: Consecutive days off wherever possible including at least one weekend day.
  • First Joint Labour Management: For the first time, a committee of union members from the stores will be elected to meet with the employer regularly to address issues and to work together to make Clarity Cannabis a better place to work.
  • Guaranteed Scheduling and Close/Opens: Schedules at least 21 days before the first day of the workweek The employer has also agreed to eliminate scheduling employees to close and open the next day wherever possible.

This first collective agreement will remain in effect for one year following the date of ratification. UFCW 1518 can give notice to bargain four months from the end of the contract, enabling Clarity Cannabis budtenders to begin negotiating even more improvements as early as October 2021.

Budtenders and cannabis-industry workers interested in winning improvements at their workplace can join the BCBUD division of UFCW 1518 and learn more at ufcw1518.com/cannabis.

Clarity Cannabis, first in BC to bring back pandemic pay

We’re thrilled to share that Clarity Cannabis will be reinstating pandemic pay for their employees. This announcement makes Clarity Cannabis the first retail outlet in BC to reinstate pandemic pay since the province ended its full lockdown back in May.

UFCW 1518 became the first union to unionize private cannabis dispensary workers in Canada last February, when Clarity Cannabis workers voted to join the union.

In March, while still waiting to begin negotiations for their first union contract, Clarity Cannabis workers mobilized and were able to reach an agreement for a COVID-19 temporary pay boost with the support of our union.

UFCW 1518 is currently at the bargaining table with Clarity Cannabis. When the employer brought forward this initiative, our union was quick to welcome the news and sign a memorandum of agreement to make the pay increase official. This development is a prime example of what we can achieve when we work together with employers to bring improvements to working people.

The temporary reinstatement of pandemic pay is effective immediately and will continue until January 1, 2021. It will be paid in the amount of $2 extra per hour of work for all bargaining unit members.

British Columbia is in the midst of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontline workers, like the budtenders at Clarity Cannabis, continue to assume risks interacting with members of the public while they are at work. We welcome the leadership of Clarity Cannabis recognizing the important work of their employees and encourage other retailers in BC to follow suit. It’s time to reinstate pandemic pay in the province.

UFCW 1518 fights for fairness for over 24,000 union members across BC and the Yukon. Click here for information about joining a union, or you can connect with an organizer to learn more. If you are worker in the Cannabis industry please visit: ufcw1518.com/cannabis/

Budtenders Become Essential Service Workers During COVID-19

In a remarkable departure from how the cannabis industry was treated in the past, British Columbia’s cannabis workers have been deemed essential service workers during the COVID-19 crisis. This means that BC’s cannabis stores are encouraged to keep operating as long as they maintain physical distancing measures and put enhanced sanitation procedures in place.

According to the Ministry of Public Safety, essential services are those businesses and services that are “essential to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning.” They are “the services British Columbians rely on in their daily lives.”

British Columbia joins several other provinces and states, including Ontario, Quebec, and California in declaring cannabis dispensaries an essential service.

Unlike in the past, when you could be arrested and jailed for selling or buying cannabis products, the work of Budtenders is now on par with other front-line essential workers like grocery and pharmacy workers. They are performing an essential service that helps to maintain some normalcy during this crisis and provides needed medicine for medical cannabis patients.

Medical cannabis advocates have pointed out how important it is to keep the legal market open during the pandemic, as if dispensaries close medical patients may need to seek cannabis from illegal underground sources. These sources do not have the added scrutiny of the legal market in terms of health and safety protections, and it is difficult to imagine how physical distancing could be maintained for vulnerable medical cannabis patients.

In recognition for their work in helping to flatten the curve on the Covid-19 pandemic, unionized budtenders at Clarity Cannabis are receiving a $2/hour “hero” pay boost and a secure return-to-work benefit. Budtenders also have access to additional child care benefits granted to front-line workers.

UFCW 1518 fights for fairness for over 23,000 union members across BC and the Yukon. Click here for information about joining our Cannabis division, or you can connect with an organizer to learn more.