Workers at Gresham Grow Operation Walk Out, Demand Union Recognition

Workers at CBN Holdings form a picket line to support their union.
UFCW Local 555

Legalization placed cannabis workers in legal limbo, union leaders say.

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Workers at a Gresham-based cannabis grow operation walked off the job on Monday to demand recognition of their labor union, saying the company fired four employees for trying to unionize the facility.

In a press release, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 said the workers at CBN Holdings decided to unionize in order to address unsafe working conditions.

According to communications director Miles Eshaia, the walkout included around 25 assistant growers, maintenance staff, and post production staff, and comprised a ‘majority’ of the holding company’s workforce.

CBN co-owner and chief operation officer Matt Hurt told Oregon Public Broadcasting and Willamette Weekthat only about six employees participated in the walkout. Hurt also said he was “completely unaware” of efforts to unionize, and that no employees had been fired due to a union drive.

Neither Hurd, nor CBN Holdings, responded to Oregon Business’ request for comment.

Graham Trainor, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, wrote in an email to Oregon Business that his organization “stands proudly” with the CBN employees, and that the Oregon AFL-CIO will continue to support efforts to unionize workers in the cannabis industry across the state.

“Cannabis workers like the ones at CBN Holdings deserve protection under our labor laws and they deserve the ability to stand together in the workplace by forming unions,” Trainor tells OB. “Our Movement lives and breathes the idea that an injury to one is an injury to all, and we will continue to speak up for any worker dreaming of a better life and organizing their union on the job.”

Sandy Humphrey, secretary-treasurer of UFCW Local 555, said in Monday’s press release that when Oregon legalized recreational cannabis, it did not lay out clear enough guidelines for employees to unionize. That left workers in “legal limbo” without a state agency to protect and oversee workers at grow operations.

2021 report by the Economic Policy Institute said unionization in the cannabis industry could lead to safer jobs that pay between $2,810 to $8,690 more per year than in what it describes as a “low-road scenario,” where cannabis workers would have few to no workplace protections. Workers at unionized cannabis businesses also enjoyed more workplace benefits, including health care, paid leave and fairer scheduling practices.

In an interview with OB, Eshaia acknowledged that cannabis store owners face challenges of their own, including federal restrictions that prevent them from using. He said UFCW was in support of local and national efforts to let owners use banks, instead of keeping large amounts of cash on-hand.

UFCW Local 555 has also called on cannabis dispensaries to stop selling CBN Holdings’s products, sold as Cannabis Nation, until it recognizes its workers’ call for a union.

“Unionization of the cannabis industry not only creates a better environment for workers and their families, but further pushes its need for federal recognition and legalization as a high priority. The right to form a union is more important now than ever before, and why UFCW 555 is calling for a boycott of CBN Holding’s products,” said Dan Clay, President of UFCW Local 555, in UFCW’s release.

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