An attempt to unionize workers at a medical marijuana facility near Philadelphia was dismissed after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the employees who were trying to organize there were agricultural workers.
AgriKind owns a cannabis growing operation in Chester. Its parent company has an interest in one of the Pennsylvania Clinical Registrant growers, which works with Drexel University to develop medical marijuana studies. It also plans to open a dispensary in Chester in March.
Two AgriKind employees, a trimmer and a cultivation associate, attempted to establish a union shop there under the auspices of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776.
Agricultural and farm workers are usually considered to be federally exempt from federal labor law.
The NLRB is an independent agency of the federal government that adjudicates labor issues.
In a decision released last week, the NLRB ruled that because the two workers did not ”significantly transform the natural product from its raw state,” they were ineligible for union protection.
The trimmer and the cultivator “are exempt because they each substantially engage in the primary agricultural functions of harvesting, pruning, and sorting of plant,” the NLRB wrote.
In previous marijuana cases, the NLRB has ruled in favor of unionizing of cannabis facility employees if their work includes packaging weed or delivering it to dispensaries.
Wendell Young, the president of the UFCW 1776, said efforts to organize employees at AgriKind will continue.
“The NLRB tried to change the law with this decision. An administrative agency was trying to legislate through Trump appointees,” Young said. “Though the two workers are no longer employed at AgriKind, we still have an active large group of employees there who want to unionize.”
“The precedent established is clearest when you look at mushroom workers,” Young continued. “So we will follow through with this case to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Workers who are exempt under the NLRB are usually covered by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.”
Labor peace agreements (LPAs), which clear the way for collective bargaining, are mandatory for legal cannabis producers in California, said Steven Schain, a lawyer with Hoban Law. which focuses on marijuana and hemp law. “Under New Jersey’s pending adult-use statute, LPAs are required for all prospective applicants to grow, with the exception of microbusinesses. There are no requirements for LPAs in Pennsylvania.”
At AgriKind, inexperienced trimmers, who shape the cannabis flower buds, are paid about $11.75 an hour, company CEO Jon Cohn said. “New cultivators earn a little more than that.”
AgriKind employs about 70 workers, “most of them full time,” Cohn said.
The company is working to double the amount of cannabis it has under cultivation by mid-March. Cohn said that he received approval for the expansion from the state Department of Health last week and that he’ll be hiring 60 more people to fill roles in all aspects of the operation.
Cohn said his employees receive health insurance through Independence Blue Cross and this year will get contributions toward a 401(k) . “We’d rather take care of our people,” he said.
“We don’t want the atmosphere here to be management vs. labor. Granted, we’ve grown really fast and had a ton of turnover. That’s caused some pains. People think growing cannabis is going to be glamorous, but it’s really hard work.”