Employees of the Massachusetts marijuana company Sira Naturals have unionized, the first workforce to do so in the state’s rapidly expanding legal cannabis industry.
More than two-thirds of Sira’s 115 eligible workers — including 85 at its Milford cultivation and manufacturing facility, plus 30 at its dispensaries in Needham and Somerville — voted Wednesday to join Local 1445 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, or UFCW.
The vote followed a so-called labor peace agreement between Sira and the UFCW, under which the company allowed union representatives to organize workers at its locations without objection or interference.
Sira’s chief executive, Mike Dundas, said the company decided to voluntarily recognize the union because it’s “the right thing to do” and because it will help attract and retain employees in an industry with high turnover.
“We have embraced the decision,” Dundas said. “Our workforce is one of our greatest competitive advantages. At the end of the day, happy employees make for a healthy and profitable company.”
Company and union representatives said they hope to finalize a contract by year’s end. Among the issues expected to be on the table during negotiations: worker safety, pay, health care, parental leave, retirement funds, and other benefits.
“We want to make sure this industry becomes a source of middle-class jobs and careers,” UFCW organizer Aidan Coffey said. “Cannabis today could be what the automobile industry was in the 1950s — you work one job and make enough to support your family.”
Coffey praised Sira as a “high road” employer for its willingness to embrace unionization. Workers who met with him one-on-one, he added, were generally happy with their jobs and didn’t report any “red flag” concerns, such as dangerous safety lapses or sexual harassment.
Unionizing will also grant Sira’s workers access to free community colleges classes through the UCFW, which represents about 10,000 marijuana workers in 15 states.
In Massachusetts, Local 1445 represents a wide variety of health care, manufacturing, and retail employees, including from Stop & Shop and Macy’s.
Adam Schneider, who helps lead the production of edibles and other marijuana-infused products at Sira’s Milford facility and was one of the company’s earliest employees, explained that he voted to unionize because it would offer workers protection and representation in a fast-changing industry.
“I personally don’t ever trust a company to do the right thing — they’re more concerned about the bottom line,” he said.
“Now if anything happens to me, instead of going to the higher-ups and hoping they listen, I can go the union and have them fight for me and escalate it if they need to. Someone has your back.”
Schneider, 31, is hoping the forthcoming contract will boost his current salary of $18 an hour, in recognition of his relatively long tenure at Sira. That would help him save more while paying rent in Massachusetts, where the cost of living is high.
Sira’s acquisition earlier this year by a publicly traded Canadian conglomerate, Ayr Strategies (formerly Cannabis Strategies Acquisition Corp.), Schneider added, has put more distance between workers and top executives — while also increasing the pressure on employees to ramp up production. That makes unionizing all the more important, he said.
“I worked at Whole Foods right before they got bought out by Amazon, and everything was taken away,” he said.
“That really turned me on to what can happen if a company gets acquired and stops caring.”