Pot businesses join Michigan GOP in opposing labor pacts with workers

Andrew Brisbo

Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency Director Andrew Brisbo said the proposed labor peace agreement rule was intended “to make sure there’s as much stability as possible” in the burgeoning market. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)

Two years ago, advocates for recreational marijuana were hustling to persuade Michiganders to approve legalization while facing opposition from leading business groups and Republicans heading up state government. 

Now some of those advocates are aligned with their former detractors, at least on one thing: opposition to requiring weed businesses to enter into a “labor peace agreement” with employees before receiving a license from the state.

Labor peace agreements usually make it easier for workplaces to become unionized because the employer typically agrees not to stand in the way of employees who want to organize. However, the agreement would also require workers to pledge not to boycott or strike. 

The state Marijuana Regulatory Agency proposed including the requirement in rules that will govern the burgeoning industry by July 1 at the latest. Debate over the provision was at the center of an overflowing public hearing in Lansing on Wednesday, where marijuana lawyers, business owners and workers told regulators how they’d like to see those rules changed.

Advocates for business owners argued the rule was unpopular and possibly even illegal; workers spoke passionately about how it could help foster sustainable jobs in an industry often dominated by big businesses and wealthy investors. 

Cody Dekker of Kalamazoo told regulators he is a budtender — the industry’s word for front-of-house employees who serve marijuana to customers — who was fired for trying to organize his fellow workers. He said he has a chronic health condition and lost his health insurance when he lost his job. 

“Currently we as workers have no representation or power as the industry booms and some people make millions of dollars,” Dekker said. “I worked hard and played by the rules. Companies should do the same thing.”

Michigan’s recreational marijuana industry has made more than $17.7 million in sales since launching in December 2019, according to data from the MRA. When the market is fully established, the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency has estimated annual sales will be about $949 million. 

Another speaker, Josey Scoggin of Benton Harbor, said she’s worked in the marijuana industry for nine years. She recently was offered a job at a dispensary in Portage for $14 per hour and had to turn it down because she wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment in the area. “I’ve never been offered a 401(k) or health insurance,” she told officials. 

If the rules are approved as they are now, the agreement would require the labor organization to agree not to picket, stop work, boycott or engage in “any other economic interference with the applicant’s business.”

testimony

Brisbo and staff listened to public testimony on proposed rules governing the marijuana industry Wednesday morning. Many spoke in support of a provision that would require employers to enter into labor peace agreements with workers. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)

The deal basically means “that the business owner won’t stand in the way of organization by the staff at the facility, and that the labor organization wouldn’t push the labor force into a strike situation,” said Marijuana Regulatory Agency director Andrew Brisbo.

Businesses are already operating on “pretty thin profit margins,” so the provision was intended to provide “as much stability as possible” in the market, Brisbo said, heading off “labor disruptions.” 

Robin Schneider, executive director for the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, the leading group advocating for Michigan marijuana businesses, told Brisbo and his staff Wednesday that most of her members are opposed to labor peace agreements. 

“We certainly did not include it in the ballot initiative language,” she said of the successful 2018 campaign that legalized recreational marijuana. 

Tim Beck, a longtime marijuana advocate who helped organize the 2008 initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Michigan, said the labor provision “is crazy” and will get struck down. 

“I cannot in my wildest imagination understand why you came up with a cockamamie scheme like this.”

Their voices echo those who once opposed them in the drive to legalize recreational pot. The Republican-led Legislature passed a resolution condemning the labor agreement requirement, while leading business groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Association of Michigan warned it could have devastating consequences for businesses in other industries as well. 

Rich Studley, CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, told Bridge he was shocked about “the extraordinary precedent that would be set” by the rule due to the large number of businesses that must get licensure from the state in order to operate. 

The provision is “at best extra-legal… and at worst it is an indirect approach to circumventing or watering down and repealing Right to Work,” Studley said, referencing a 2012 law that made it illegal for a worker to be required to join a union as a condition of employment.

“Today they’re seeking to impose this requirement on a new industry. Who’s next?”

Little is predictable in the rapidly expanding marijuana industry, and the impact of such a provision isn’t entirely clear. But other states such as New York and California have similar requirements in their marijuana rules, which analysts have described as a “double-edged sword” that can boost employee retention and labor costs. 

The state will continue to accept public feedback through Feb. 17 and make changes to the proposed rules based on the testimony. The final rules must be in place by July 1.

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Comments

G Davis
Wed, 02/12/2020 - 8:01pm

Someone's going to be making money hand-over-fist, but I don't think it's going to be the "budtender", or any other worker. I wouldn't hesitate to speculate that most workers will not be paid a "living wage", nor will most of them have company provided health insurance, 401 K's or retirement benefits, sick days, holiday pay, etc.

If Michigan’s recreational marijuana industry has already made more than $17.7 million in sales since launching in December 2019. Once the market is fully established, the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency estimates annual sales will be about $949 million. Not a bad chunk of change returned to the wealthy investors and big businesses dominating this industry.

As for the working stiff's, they would like to have some protection for the jobs they are doing, and maybe the possibility of some benefits for themselves and their families. I see nothing wrong with allowing them to talk about organizing so they might have some job security. To be fired from your job for trying to organize is a step backwards by employers.

When the ballot initiative was written and passed by Michigan's voters, there was no language dealing with a "labor agreement requirement". This reared it's ugly head after the initiative was passed.

“Currently we as workers have no representation or power as the industry booms and some people make millions of dollars,” said Cody Dekker, who was fired from his job. “I worked hard and played by the rules. Companies should do the same thing.”

Yes, there's a ton of money going to be made by some, but I'd bet my paycheck that it won't necessarily "trickle-down" to the workers. Will they be paid a "living wage", have the security of a full-time job, and maybe some benefits? Who knows, as I think the cards are stacked against them.

"Right to Work" laws will continue to exist, but they can exist even if there is a union at the workplace. No one can force you to join or pay dues. That is the employees choice. There needs to be some protection for workers from their management, especially with the millions of dollars forecast to be made by these businesses and rich investors.

Workers have a right to organize. Don't take that right away!

Jill
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 1:37pm

Thank you, this does not sound like the will of the workers but the ideas of the Government, GOP and Lobbyist for big businesses. Like every other industry. Once the grassroots folks do the hard work, the privileged wealthy take over and implement their "standards" These don't often align with the original hopes of the people. Stop it, leave the industry alone and it will flourish, get the politicians involved and it's just another big business not about helping others.

middle of the mit
Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:37pm

If the Republican legislator would rescind their onerous licensing fee of $66,000 per year for each store, and brought it to a lower level, maybe these stores could afford better pay or benefits for their workers and their might be locals that could be brought into the industry as what was SUPPOSED TO BE.

But to ask republicans to give locals a chance when they can give a brand new industry over to their friends that have already been established in California and the Western States? John Boehnor and the rest of the MI house and senate republicans that succumbed to term limits have to recoup their investment... PLUS on a law they circumvented to their own benefit.

Thank you republicans for sheeeeting all over the State and the business people that are running businesses that you hate, but LOVE to make a PROFIT off of.

And to the stores and growers, If it wasn't for people like me, the people you are now allying with would have you put in Jail! President Donald J. Trump agrees with Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, in so far as drug dealers and those use drugs should be put to death. I know that is a harsh sentence, so I offer proof.

https://fortune.com/2018/02/26/trump-dealth-penalty-capital-punishment-d...

Is His Latest Nod to the Philippines’ Authoritarian Leader

[[[A new report from Axios reveals just how far President Donald Trump is taking his law and order rhetoric.

Late Sunday, Axios reported that Trump “loves” the notion of imposing capital punishment on drug dealers—an approach taken by the Philippines, Singapore, and China. Trump reportedly references the approach frequently, saying, “When I ask the prime minister of Singapore do they have a drug problem, the prime minister replies, ‘No. Death penalty.’” The report suggests that Trump thinks drug dealers are “as bad as serial killers,” and believes that more lenient drug policies “will never work.” ]]]]

Think about it.

This isn't what the people voted for. Why are you fudging everything up? Ohhh that's right. Mammon and self interest.

See conservatives? You will take everything and fudge it up for your own mammonistic gains. Better pull out your Bible and find out how God and Jesus think about mammonists. It's not good.

middle of the mit
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 5:36am

I am calling out Arjay!

Arjay, you claim this site is liberal and only puts out information for liberals. I am here to tell you that is BS!

Here is https://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/

Can you show me or the rest of the readers where there is any non-biased, centrist columns?

I dare you to show them. I looked and searched. It's conservative drool that the Mackinaw center for public destruction is putting out as fact.

I searched for conservative websites in MI, and all I got was a bunch of Centralized BS that Matt Drudge was pushing.

This website at least allows unfettered and unedited commentary from Both the Mackinaw center for public destruction and the Heritage Foundation. You should at least know the Heritage Foundation, they are the founders of the ACA, AKA , Obamacare!

Why don't you tell us where you get your unbiased news and then we can look to see if they are unbiased as Bridge?

I will put Bridge against ANYTHING you have.

Capcon doesn't even allow comments, at least from what I have seen.

Keep supporting Public destruction.

We ALL know what you are doing.

Mortified
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 5:18pm

So treat the workers like crap, pay them little, sell them your pot, and hope that they are too stoned to realize you're screwing them. This is disgusting.

Keith
Sun, 02/16/2020 - 11:29am

Razor thin profit margins!? With marijuana sakes. As usual those making millions want to pay pennies for labor. If I had known marijuana growers and dispensers would be just like Walmart I never would have voted to legalize sale of marijuana only grow for personal use. Damn what greedy bastards!