Unionization has been a hot topic in the Illinois cannabis market for some time now. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881 recently won a vote to unionize Cresco’s Joliet cultivation facility. The Teamsters lost a similar vote to unionize Green Thumb’s Rock Island cultivation facility. A recent article in Crain’s Chicago Business suggests that the battlefield will soon be expanding to area dispensaries.

Specifically, the UFCW recently filed petitions to hold elections at four high-profile Chicagoland dispensaries owned by publicly-traded companies: (1) the MedMen dispensary in Evanston; (2) the Nature’s Care dispensary in Rolling Meadows (Acreage Holdings owns Nature’s Care); (3) Cresco’s Sunnyside dispensary in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago; and (4) the Compassionate Care Center in Naperville (Green Thumb Industries owns Compassionate Care Center).

The UFCW argues that unionization is a benefit for employees and companies. Zach Koutsky, the legislative and political director for UFCW Local 881, said, “We want to show people that retail product and transportation are all better off when they go union.” He also noted that during the current health crisis, retail employees remain on the job—“[t]his is being done with frontline essential workers in a pandemic.”

The dispensaries have been more reserved. Cresco and MedMen did not comment for the story. Green Thumb took a neutral position, stating “Green Thumb respects the rights of our employees…One of these fundamental labor rights is the right to freedom of association. We are reviewing the petition for merit.” Acreage issued a statement against the vote. “Given these unprecedented times, we hope that the labor organizers agree that right now, our employees’ top priority should be the health and well-being of themselves, their loved ones and the customers they care for every day. This is an important decision for them to weigh, to be sure, and we believe that out of respect for the situation, our employees would be best-served by not having to consider this until we are past the pandemic.”

We are following the votes closely. If the UFCW wins all the votes, unionization will gain significant momentum and we could see widespread unionization on the retail side. If the UFCW loses the votes, we may see the union issue recede for the time being. Or the votes may provide another split decision like we saw on the cultivation side, resulting in more important battles in the future.

Stay tuned to our blog for further updates on unionization and other issues impacting the cannabis industry.