The MedMen dispensary in Oak Park, Ill. Credit: Google Street View

Illinois cannabis workers continue to unionize, in response to long hours and years of insignificant wage increases, say union officials who continue to rack up newly organized dispensaries across the state. In March, workers at three cannabis businesses teamed up with labor unions such as the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) collectively bargain against what they claim are broad company shortcomings.

On Mar. 23, workers at MedMen Oak Park dispensary petitioned for an organization vote. Of the 23-person work force, 17 people voted unanimously to join UFCW Local 881, citing no hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of healthcare coverage, and no significant wage increases.

“The honeymoon stage is over,” UFCW Local 881’s Director of Organizing,Theresa Ramirez-Gonzales said. “The workers are tired of this. The same thing I hear is that they care, and feel unappreciated. They are promised a wage increase but they never see any.”

Ramirez-Gonzales said that employees work without a raise despite a year or two of working there.

UFCW Local 881 has been busy organizing across Illinois, winning union elections at facilities operated by PharmaCann, Cresco Labs, Ascend Wellness, and Green Thumb Industries, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

Ramirez-Gonzalez said that UFCW represents at least 17 cannabis companies in the area. 

Workers at Columbia Care’s Cannabist dispensary in Villa Park are set to form a union soon with workers claiming they have the votes necessary to join Local 881.

While many of the workers say they enjoy what they do, Ramirez-Gonzales said they form these unions as a matter of last resort.

“It feels like their last hope,” Ramirez-Gonzales said. “If companies would just listen to their workers, you wouldn’t feel like they’re unheard. They’re not asking for a lot.”

Teamsters Local 777 also announced on Mar. 10 that workers at Ascend Wellness/Modern Cannabis (MOCA) locations in River North and Logan Square voted unanimously to join the organization. Their collective bargaining agreement agreed on guaranteed annual raises, a new company guarantee that workers can accept tips, seniority rights and a guarantee of forty hours per week for full-time staff.

“The first contract is always the hardest, but these workers demonstrated incredible tenacity and solidarity at the bargaining table,” said Jim Glimco in a statement, President of Local 777. “I’m extremely proud of what these men and women accomplished with this historic, ground-breaking achievement.”

MOCA, Cannabist, and MedMen did respond to requests for comment to Grown In by publication.

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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.