Weed workers in Phoenix wage 4/20 protest at Curaleaf dispensary | Phoenix New Times

4/20 feud: Phoenix Curaleaf workers protest over stalled labor talks

Employees protested labor law violations and stalled union negotiations outside Curaleaf Camelback on weed's biggest holiday.
Cannabis workers and labor activists protested at Curaleaf Camelback on Saturday over the company's refusal to negotiate with store employes.
Cannabis workers and labor activists protested at Curaleaf Camelback on Saturday over the company's refusal to negotiate with store employes. Drake Ridge/UFCW 99
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Curaleaf workers protested outside one of the company’s Phoenix dispensaries on Saturday, the high holy day for herb aficionados, bringing attention to the cannabis giant’s recent labor law violations.

Democratic lawmakers and labor advocates joined the workers at Curaleaf Camelback Dispensary on East Camelback Road near Seventh Street, speaking out for better working conditions and wages that keep pace with the cost of living.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 99, which represents the dispensary’s workers as well as other Curaleaf workers in the region, hosted the rally to highlight the company’s continued refusal to negotiate with store employees. The dispensary’s workers voted to unionize in August 2022.

Union members also delivered a letter to the store’s manager, Ryan Gonsalves. The union’s director of organizing, Martin Hernandez, wrote that employees have reported being falsely told their pay raises are being canceled because of the dispensary having to bargain for a union contract.

“The Union is concerned that your employees may be misinformed,” Hernandez wrote. “As you know, Curaleaf is, in fact, required to continue its practice with respect to raises that was in place before employees voted for union representation.”

Gonsalves did not respond to Phoenix New Times' request for comment.

The union's greater concern, however, is that the store is not bargaining with employees. On Feb. 29, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Curaleaf Camelback has, since Sept. 7, 2023, failed to recognize and bargain with the union representing its workers at its Camelback Road dispensary.

The board also ruled that Curaleaf failed to give the union the information it requested to help with the collective bargaining process. As a result, the company was ordered to post a notice for 60 days at its facilities reading, “The National Labor Relations Board has found that we violated Federal labor law and has ordered us to post and obey this notice.”

The company, however, appealed the ruling on March 11 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

According to UFCW 99 spokesperson Drake Ridge, union negotiators have not met with Curaleaf management since the Feb. 29 ruling, as Curaleaf still has not recognized the Camelback dispensary’s union.

“Our goal is to raise public awareness of industry working conditions and send a message to cannabis operators that the workers who make 4/20 happen deserve a clear career path with a living wage, benefits, full-time employment and quality health care,” Drake told New Times.

“It’s time for companies like Curaleaf to work with their employees to improve Arizona’s cannabis industry for workers, consumers and community members alike,” he added.

Curaleaf is the largest cannabis company in the world, according to the Financial Times.

"We are committed to fostering a positive relationship with union leaders and Curaleaf team members, and the company respects the voices of our Arizona team members and their right to peacefully convene," Tracy Brady, Curaleaf's senior vice president of communications and corporate marketing, told New Times in a written statement.

Brady didn't directly address a question about why the company has failed to recognize the union. But she noted that just one Curaleaf employee participated in the protest and that the worker wasn't from the Camelback store.

Ridge said that's because workers were busy.

"On a day when many cannabis workers are working long shifts to make 4/20 happen, we were proud to see so many community members mobilize to echo their calls for justice," Ridge said, noting that the store's employees "said loud and clear that they wanted union representation nearly two years ago."

Attendees at the event included Fred Yamashita, executive director and treasurer of the Arizona AFL-CIO; Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, who is Assistant Minority Leader in the Arizona House; and Rep. Junelle Cavero, according to the Arizona Republic.

"We know how vital a union contract is to working people today, as it always has been. But this is an industry that needed the community, needed partners like unions to help get their foothold here in the state of Arizona," Yamashita said at the protest. "As soon as they were able to do that, they turned their back on the very workers that create the massive profits these companies intake."
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