By Ernesto Arce, March 11, 2016
Labor and the cannabis industry in Southern California have teamed up to ensure safe access to medicinal marijuana while safeguarding neighborhoods from illegal pot shops.
South Coast Safe Access was the first legal dispensary in Orange County and now it’s the first to unionize its two dozen workers. The owners of the collective hope more county dispensaries work with labor as a way to defend the industry from federal raids and bad press.
Workers at Orange County’s first licensed medical marijuana dispensary voted unanimously to unionize. South Coast Safe Access and the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 324 have negotiated the first labor agreement in Orange County.
It drew praise from some of the dispensary’s 22 employees including Danny Becerra.
[Danny Becerra]: “I’m really happy to be able to join with my coworkers in this union.”
The contract provides for union representation, paid holidays, vacation, and sick leave, employer paid health insurance, a retirement plan, grievance procedure and a $13.50 per hour starting wage.
Rick Eiden head of Orange Countys United Food & Commercial Workers union said the partnership will benefit patients and workers alike.
[Rick Eiden]: “Paralleling the retail drug industry, the drug industry and labor have partnered together to make sure the same safety requirements for both patients and employees are at the same high standard.”
Medical cannabis has been legal in California for 20 years. Cannabis workers believe the golden state can lead the nation by protecting workers and consumers in an industry that will certainly grow and become an even bigger part of the states economy.
Derek Worden, owner of South Coast Safe Access, said he and his partners fully backed his employees’ decision to improve their work conditions, which would also boost his business.
[Derek Worden]: "“We’re pleased that our staff have decided to unite and collectively work to ensure fair wages, good benefits and safest working conditions so our patients can have reliable access to cannabis in the region.”
A group of elected officials took part in the announcement to recognize the medical marijuana workforce and to keep the industry in the hands of legitimate operators.
Recently, a dispensary in nearby Anaheim was raided for a third time. The county has collaborated with federal agencies in cracking down on more than a dozen local unauthorized shops.
Bao Nguyen, Mayor of nearby Garden Grove, said he supports legitimate dispensaries like the dozen or so that operate legally in his city.
[Bao Nguyen]: " “We want to ensure that dispensaries are operating legally and workers are getting fair treatment. this is something that the industry already has such as with CVS and Riteaid and other pharmacies. so it’s really important that workers come together and that the union works together with the dispensaries and this is a perfect model for that.”
The Orange County Labor Federation said the cannabis workers will join UFCW Local 324, which represents pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy clerks.
For Workers Independent News, Ernesto Arce, Los Angeles