TRENTON – The potential economic boon from the at-long-last debut of recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey will also pay dividends for labor unions, as the state law governing the budding industry includes a clear path for organizing the new workplaces.

Hugh Giordano, director of organizing for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 360, said the union’s role is similar to what it does in any economic sector – seeking to make sure workers have fair wages, affordable healthcare and retirement plans and a voice on the job.

“Like any other industry, these folks have families, these folks have bills, and they have personal lives that require that having a good career is part of having a good future,” Giordano said. “And we also are making sure that good banners, good employers are the ones that continuously win licenses.”

Except for the smallest marijuana companies, called micro businesses, most applicants for cannabis licenses in New Jersey are required to attest to the state they have labor peace agreements with bona fide labor groups. Those unions must also attest to the same.

Giordano said labor peace agreements create a neutral environment, which he says leads to a partnership between labor and industry.

“There will be no protesting and boycotting, and also on the same extent, there’s no anti-union meetings and threats to workers who want to organize,” Giordano said.

“Right now, without labor peace in other states, employers have the right to intimidate and force workers into anti-union meetings,” he said “Just like we’re seeing at Amazon and Starbucks, right? No different.”

Labor peace agreements are mostly a feature in Democratic blue states, also existing in the cannabis industry in California, Illinois, New York, Connecticut and Virginia.

“I’m not sure how long the Virginia one is going to last because of the new administration down there,” Giordano said. “But we do have it in states, and we’re working on it in the other states as well in the Northeast and the Midwest.”

In addition to requiring labor peace agreements to start, most license holders are required to reach a union contract or at least engage in an honest attempt at one within 200 days of opening.

Giordano said a supermajority of New Jersey cannabis industry worksites have unions or labor peace agreements and hopes all will be organized by the end of the year.

“The conversation has been about social equity and economic justice here in the state of New Jersey and around the country in regard to cannabis,” he said. “And we believe that social justice and economic justice cannot be accomplished unless workers’ rights are part of that conversation and part of that package.”

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A second labor union, Cannabis Engineers Extractors & Distributors (CEED) Local 420, is also seeking to represent New Jersey marijuana employees. In February, workers at the Ascend medical dispensary in Montclair voted to join CEED.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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