Curaleaf’s Windy City Cannabis dispensary in Worth, Illinois. Credit: Apple Maps

One year after Juneteenth was recognized as an official federal holiday last year, companies such as Curaleaf now provide holiday pay to its employees nationwide. Curaleaf workers at Worth, Il. were shocked to find out they would be excluded.

In a company-wide email, Curaleaf informed employees that those represented by a union would not be receiving holiday pay for Juneteenth. Non-union salaried employees would get a day off within the same pay period, or get the options of a day off or time and a half as a non-union hourly employee. The official email states employees represented by a union are governed by the collective bargaining agreement they signed with their respective unions to work out holiday pay discrepancies. 

Celebrated on June 19, Juneteenth is an annual commemoration marking the day of full emancipation of enslaved Black Americans. On that day in 1865 in Galveston, Union Major General Gordon Granger read aloud the Thirteenth Amendment, freeing slaves from bondage in the United States.

The workers in Worth are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881, who also represent other dispensaries such as MedMen Oak Park and Curaleaf’s Mokena dispensary. Danielle “DJ” Jones, an employee at the Worth location, believes cutting holiday pay is an intimidation tactic by Curaleaf to discourage others from unionizing.

“We love our jobs and we want to love the industry too, but this is such a massive slap in the face,” Jones said. “This is very intentional and goes against the precedent they set. I’m furious that they’d do this in these especially trying times.”

Across the Midwest, cannabis workers are joining labor unions as the industry grows. Besides organization with UFCW Local 881, Teamsters Local 777 has been organizing as well. Last week dispensary workers at RISE voted to unionize with Teamsters.

Workers at the unionized locations cite demands for better pay, benefits and work schedule guarantees, especially more flexible hours for those who have children.

Jones, who has worked for Curaleaf since 2020, got the idea to unionize after seeing other dispensaries organize, recognizing it as an opportunity to secure better benefits and in her words, “basic human decency.” 

“They have cultivated a culture of fear,” Jones says. “Our turnover is so high; more than half our staff is new from January. Of the 50 people that we have on staff, only two people can request time off.”

Kyle Tuchowski, the longest working employee at the Worth location by 5 years, said he is now paid only 30 cents more than newer employees, who stay on staff for an average of 3 months. Tuchowski claims it has been nearly impossible to get the company to give him excused medical absences, even threatening to fire him despite verified proof from doctors.

“Things just took a turn for the worse,” Tuchowski said. “It became an outright hostile work environment. We’re just losing people left and right, it’s astounding.”

A Curaleaf spokesperson said the company is not directly trying to punish employees and is trying to follow the law regarding collective bargaining for union employees.

“Curaleaf is not prohibiting Illinois employees from celebrating Juneteenth,” a Curaleaf representative told Grown In. “Employees represented by a union are not receiving the holiday in 2022 if their contract is currently being negotiated or their existing contract does not include Juneteenth as a holiday.”

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Trey Arline is Grown In’s Midwest Reporter. He was most recently with the Daily Herald, but has also reported for Vegas PBS, The Nevada Independent, and the Associated Press.