Native union officers focus on significance of hashish illustration

With the cannabis industry slowly but surely coming into its own across the state and country, workers have expressed the desire for the benefits and fair treatment that often come with union representation.

One of the most recent examples in the region came when United Food and Commercial Workers 152 announced it had agreed to represent more than 60 employees from The Botanist, a dispensary with sites in Egg Harbor Township and Atlantic County. It’s the first cannabis company Local 152 will represent, but far from a first for UFCW. Local 360, another union branch based in Berlin, represents employees from a number of cannabis sites, including Garden State Dispensary.

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While industry leaders and advocates are still working to break down the stigma that’s associated with cannabis use, Local 152 Organizing Director Mike Thompson said employees just want the same kind of protection and stability employees in other fields get.

“This is going to be a legitimate industry,” Thompson said, “and people deserve to be represented, have great paying jobs and great benefits.”

According to Thompson, EHT and Atlantic City workers at The Botanist reached out to Local 152 in January. Workers from the company’s Williamstown site are currently represented by Local 360.

Aiding in this unionization is a requirement by the state for cannabis companies to sign Labor Peace Agreements. These contracts essentially mean that if a large company wants a license to operate their cannabis business in the state, it cannot oppose the organization of a union by its employees. Smaller, mom-and-pop shops don’t have to adhere to this because of the significantly smaller size of its staff.

Hugh Giordano, Local 360’s Organizing Director, was part of the discussions to push for agreement language in the law. It’s an effort that started during the Chris Christie administration.

“If anything, we were just excited that the Senate, Assembly and the Governor’s Office cared about workers,” Giordano said.

On Tuesday, Giordano and a number of other industry experts joined US Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) for a roundtable discussion in Camden. The group praised the state for including the Labor Peace Agreement requirement, and hopes other states will do the same in the future.

“I’m proud to say I think we have the strongest cannabis laws for cannabis in the country,” Local 360 President Sam Ferraino said. “I believe they’re actually using our laws as a guideline for other states. It’s very exciting.”

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Also in attendance were employees from Garden State Dispensary. Alexis Fastow, a supervisor for the dispensary’s Eatontown site, said unions are crucial for workers to get the respect they feel they deserve. Many in the industry have degrees in botany and medicine, so she argued that it’s unfair to be paid the same wages as those without college degrees. She also pointed out that, despite the fact that Garden State Dispensary only serves medicinal-use cannabis, wages are relatively low because the positions receive tips.

“In order for people to make livable wages, we are expected to ask patients to tip us,” Fastow said. “(It’s) basically like tipping your pharmacist so I can get gas to go to work.

“If it weren’t for the union, there would be things that our company would just push under the rug and wouldn’t address; so it’s good to have that third person to bounce off of that’s actually there and wants to fight for you right to work.”

Both the 360 ​​and 152 branches are in the process of bringing in more workers in the state because, as Giordano put it, labor representation promotes social equity. In an industry centered around a substance that has disproportionately punished people of color for decades, Giordano believes unions can start to right those wrongs.

It’s about “making sure that people get their raises based on their work and their ethics and not based on their nationality or their religion,” he said. “The UFCW’s main component is to protect workers in minority communities so they get treated equally.

“Data shows that when workers are unionized in cannabis (industries) raises are more transparent and fair, promotions are more transparent and fair; and also, the level of abuses such as sexual harassment and other forms of gender discrimination are lowered.”

Ahmad Austin Jr. is a lifelong South Jersey resident telling stories within the healthcare and cannabis industries for Burlington County Times, Courier-Post and The Daily Journal. For story tips, reach out to

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