Kim Rivers, the chief executive of Florida-based marijuana conglomerate Trulieve, traveled to Massachusetts and met with workers Friday afternoon at the company’s Framingham dispensary — a visit that comes after the death of a worker at Trulieve’s Holyoke production facility and amid a campaign to unionize workers at the firm’s four locations in the state.
Trulieve faces multiple investigations over the January death of Lorna McMurrey, 27, who collapsed at the company’s cultivation and processing facility in Holyoke while filling prerolled joints with ground marijuana. She died at a hospital several days later.
Federal workplace safety officials later said the cause was “occupational asthma due to exposure to ground cannabis” dust, and that other employees faced similar conditions — but also determined that Trulieve had not failed to protect its workers.
Rivers refused to answer questions about the Holyoke tragedy from a Globe reporter at the Framingham marijuana store Friday, and Trulieve managers immediately asked the reporter to leave. Rivers later exited hurriedly through a side door and drove away in a chauffeured SUV.
Later Friday, a Trulieve spokesman said the trip was part of Rivers’s “normal duties.”
“Kim’s visit is exactly what a good CEO does and it’s what she will continue to do: travel to, meet with, and listen to employees,” he said.
An investigation into McMurrey’s death by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration led to a fine of more than $32,000 for failing to train workers about the danger and not keeping records of hazardous materials at the production center. Trulieve is contesting the investigation’s findings.
The company is also being investigated by the state Department of Public Health and the Cannabis Control Commission, which said earlier this month that it had already begun a probe of the Holyoke facility in response to worker complaints the fall before McMurrey died.
Trulieve on Thursday released what it called a rebuttal to “false reporting” about the tragedy. In it, a spokesman said N95 masks were available to workers at its Holyoke facility, and the plant was equipped with an industrial air-filtering system. He also said that managers offered McMurrey the day off with pay after she initially complained of not feeling well, and that she opted to continue working.
“When Ms. McMurrey began to appear to be in distress, Trulieve followed appropriate protocols,” the company said. “A manager promptly called 911.”
The firm also asserted that three workers trained in CPR attempted to revive McMurrey, and denied reports in other publications that emergency medical workers had been delayed by security staff at the plant when they arrived to help.
“Our thoughts are with the McMurrey family for their loss,” the statement concluded. “Trulieve will continue to operate its facilities in a manner that fully protects the health and safety of all employees. We are confident we did so in January and will continue to do so going forward.”
Dave Bruneau, McMurrey’s stepfather, was not available for comment on the company’s version of events. He previously told the Globe that McMurrey had asked if she could borrow respirators from his workplace in the weeks before she collapsed at work, and said he wanted investigators to determine whether Trulieve bears any responsibility for her death.
Employee concerns about the tragedy are now fueling a drive by two chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers union to organize Trulieve workers at the Holyoke facility as well the company’s retail shops in Framingham, Northampton, and Worcester.
Aidan Coffey, the organizing director for UFCW Local 1445, said many workers learned of McMurrey’s death before it became public in September and that the tragedy helped catalyze support for unionization.
“You can draw a direct line from what happened in Holyoke and when Trulieve workers started talking about organizing,” he said. “The death of a worker is very concerning to them, and it’s definitely a big part of the motivation behind the conversations about the union.”
The UFCW alleged a series of violations by Trulieve in filings to the National Labor Relations Board this past week, claiming that the company fired a worker at its Framingham store in retaliation for supporting unionization and that managers have been inappropriately interrogating, surveilling, and discouraging employees who are interested in joining.
“They’ve unleashed quite a union-busting campaign,” Coffey said.
A spokesman for Trulieve strongly denied those allegations.
“We have not officially received any charges filed by the UFCW with the NLRB,” he said in a statement. “If or when we are notified that charges have been filed, we will respond to them promptly. However, the employee in question was let go as a result of his unacceptable workplace behavior toward his fellow workers. . . . Any other suggestion is false.”
Coffey said the union plans to lobby for a new law in Massachusetts requiring licensed marijuana companies to sign labor peace agreements that would allow their employees to meet with organizers and vote on whether to unionize without company interference. Several other states in the Northeast that have legalized marijuana, including Connecticut, already impose such a requirement.
Dan Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.