MJBizMag February 2021 - 47

Laboring Over the Law
Unions, job classifications and COVID-19 are among the employee-related
legal issues cannabis companies must address
By Omar Sacirbey
M
arijuana businesses have the
same legal obligations to their
employees that mainstream
companies do, according to attorneys
specializing in labor and employment
law. That means cannabis employers
must implement labor-relations strategies
that will help shield their companies
from employee-related lawsuits.
Some common employment- and
labor-law pitfalls facing mainstream and
marijuana businesses include how to
classify and compensate workers, sexual
harassment, unionization and, more
recently, coronavirus-related work issues.
" Cannabis companies face the
same panoply of employee issues,
legal issues and the like that any other
business operating in America faces, "
said Jonathan Keselenko, a partner
specializing in labor and employee
relations at Boston-based law firm
Foley Hoag.
At present, perhaps the biggest
employee-related legal challenges arise
from labor unions and their push to
represent workers within the rapidly
growing cannabis industry, legal experts
told Marijuana Business Magazine.
" Unions view cannabis as a huge
opportunity, " Keselenko said. " They have
been making sort of a full-court press to
get the industry organized. "
UNION ISSUES
The United Food and Commercial
Workers (UFCW) has been the most
aggressive union seeking to organize
cannabis workers in the United States,
attorneys said. The union-which says it
represents roughly 1.3 million workers in
a range of sectors-has signed contracts
The United Food and Commercial Workers union has signed contracts with marijuana companies in
several states, including Pennsylvania. Courtesy Photo
with marijuana companies in California,
Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania,
among other states.
So, what does the union push mean for
marijuana businesses?
Unions are not inherently bad for a
business, Keselenko said. But if businesses
don't have policies in place relating to
employees and unions, they could find
themselves forced into difficult situations
in the future. Such scenarios could include
being compelled to enter contracts
that might limit a company's ability to
adjust compensation or make changes in
scheduling and workplace policies.
" It does operationally tie the
company's hands somewhat, " Keselenko
said. " I strongly believe that when a
cannabis company is opening that they at
least need to take account of the issue. "
That was made clear in January, when
the UFCW struck a settlement with three
California marijuana companies-Have a
Heart, Harvest Health & Recreation and
High Times Holding-to collectively pay
$75,000 to cover backpay the workers
were due through their union contracts.
The UFCW originally struck the
settlement with Have a Heart in January
2020, but the Seattle-based company
soon sold the two shops to Harvest,
which then sold the stores to cannabis
publisher High Times, which recently
moved into retail. Harvest and High
Times initially rejected the union
contract, but the union continued to
press both companies, and eventually
they agreed to the $75,000 settlement.
Other union-related issues also
deserve attention. For example, a small
number of states-including California,
New Jersey and New York-require
cannabis businesses to accept so-called
" labor peace agreements, " which dictate
that a company will stay neutral if a
union tries to organize the workers. In
other words, the companies cannot try to
dissuade workers from joining a union.
February 2021 | mjbizdaily.com 47
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MJBizMag February 2021

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