Michigan now has its first union-organized cannabis business after a Manistee dispensary owner signed a labor peace agreement and a majority of the workers signed up for union representation.
“The workers are all on board and excited,” said Johnny Turnage, spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876. “The LPA means we cut out the National Labor Relations Board process. Once a majority of workers sign an agreement that they want a union, we can recognize and bargain. We just ask the employer for recognition.”
Almost twenty workers at dispensary Authentic 231 in the Lake Michigan town will be represented by Local 876 after owner Willie McKenzie decided to align with the union, after his positive experience with unions in California, including his parents’ longtime membership in teachers’ unions.
“I moved here from California two years ago and the union is pretty strong in California in the cannabis industry, so I have some experience working with them there,” said McKenzie. “I saw some advantage to having a proactive relationship with them. They are going to be organizing at some point, so it made sense to be at the forefront of it.”
McKenzie’s Left Coast Holdings company includes the Manistee dispensary, a second in East Tawas, and a cultivation facility also in Manistee. Local 876 expects to finish signing up workers in East Tawas in the next week, and next up will be the cultivation facility, Heritage Farms, which could potentially make it the first unionized cultivation facility in the state.
“I think it would get a significant amount of press,” said McKenzie. “I’m also interested in some of the other support the union can offer. Unions support each other. Being a union cannabis firm, we would get a lot of support from other unions in the area. There’s 650,000 active union members and million retired union members in Michigan. That’s a lot of potential customers.”
After running the numbers, McKenzie came to the conclusion that allowing union organization wouldn’t cost him more, since his company already has high employee retention rates and relatively high wages.
“We have all the same people here since we opened. I know there’s a ton of turnover in the industry. But I have all the same people working for me when we were just building a farm and store,” said the owner. “Going union only hurts if you’re not doing right by your employees. If you value your employees and you’re taking care of them it shouldn’t be a big deal to unionize. If you’re underpaying people, it’s not going to feel good to go union.”