INSA’s Salem, Mass. dispensary, before it opened earlier this year.

Workers seeking to form a union at the INSA adult use dispensary in Salem, Mass. are contesting the results of an 11-17 failed vote for representation from May, alleging that in the four months between the petition being filed and the actual vote, the company pushed out pro-union employees while over-hiring to dilute the voting pool.

“What I always keep in mind is that at the start of this whole affair, 80% of the employees signed cards, authorizing the union to come in,” said INSA budtender Clark D’Agostino.

The original petition, which was filed with the National Labor Relations Board with the help of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1445 on January 18, sought union representation for budtenders, inventory employees, and shift leaders. 

INSA challenged the employee unit classifications resulting in an April 2022 hearing. Although the union prevailed in the hearing, the process delayed the union vote long enough for INSA to dissuade employees from joining the union, according to a spokesperson from the UFCW. 

In that time at least two union supporters were fired for non-organizing-related infractions, although their terminations are currently being contested by the UFCW. Several other supporters ended up quitting in the interim. 

Also during the interim period, the company ramped up its hiring, according to MJ Terry, a budtender at INSA. The company then trained the new employees at its Springfield location, which is about 110 miles away from its Salem store. 

“Which is just kind of wild with how Massachusetts works because they have to get a badge from the Cannabis Control Commission for each store that they’re working,” said Terry. 

When the petition was first filed, there were 26 members of the voting unit. By the time the vote happened, that number had grown to 36, according to the UFCW spokesperson.

“They’re just so focused on keeping their employees from having a true democratic voice in their wage structure that it leads me to be more questioning of their goals overall,” said D’Agostino.

INSA owns three additional dispensaries, separate medical and recreational storefronts in Springfield, Massachusetts, with a third in Easthampton that offers both medical and recreational.

“We are supportive of the process that our team conducted the past few months to decide whether or not they wanted to unionize. Our team voted, in a fair, secret ballot election, not to seek third party representation,” said INSA CEO Peter Gallagher in a released statement. “We are committed to an ongoing and open dialogue with the team now and in the future, as we continue to learn from and support each other.”

UFCW has led most of the cannabis worker organizing in the state. Employees of Solar Therapeutics in Somerset voted to join that union’s Local 328 last October. Temescal Wellness employees filed their own petition for representation that same month, with Local 1445.

For now, the union and the company are awaiting decisions on the appeals. 

“It’s a little bit odd because there’s not really much to be done at work itself [with organizing],” said D’Agostino. “Right now it’s just sort of holding steady. It’s a little odd feeling, sort of like you’re waiting for the rapture.”

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...