Medical marijuana workers hitting roadblocks trying to unionize in South Jersey

Workers at a medical marijuana dispensary in South Jersey are fighting their employer to unionize.

The employees’ complaint to the National Labor Relations Board states that Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Twp. is blocking its workers efforts to form a union.

The 11 workers at New Jersey’s second medicinal pot dispensary allege that when they tried to unionize, their employer used “tricks from the usual anti-union playbook” to deny them.

According to the employees’ attorney Mark Belland, the company changed workers’ classification from “growers” to “agricultural workers” amid the unionization drive. 

The workers are seeking to join United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 152, which is based in Mays Landing and represents some 14,000 grocery store and manufacturing workers across Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. 

Under federal law, agricultural workers are exempted from some labor protections. The labor board has not yet ruled on how pot growers in New Jersey’s burgeoning medicinal marijuana industry should be classified. The decision will determine whether the workers are backed by union law protections.

In California, the Teamsters have strengthened their ranks by successfully unionizing dozens of pot workers, coming just as the union’s numbers have dropped in traditional industries.

Attorney Belland said as the pot industry blossoms, the union issue will become more central.

“Particularly when you have conditions like the employees are experiencing with Compassionate Care,” Belland said. The workers’ complaint accuses Compassionate Care of retaliating against pro-union workers by cutting back their hours and withholding pay.

More pot workers in New Jersey are “going to be reaching out to labor organizations to help them achieve job security and better their working conditions,” Balland said.

Compassionate Care representatives were not available to respond to requests for comment.

Late last year, New Jersey opened its third medical marijuana clinic, initiated by a 2010 state law legalizing medical marijuana.

Workers at the state’s other two dispensaries have not yet sought union representation.

The NLRB has scheduled a Feb. 4 hearing on the dispute.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.