Weed St. dispensary workers slam ‘corporate overlords’ opposing unionization effort — but say it’s unclear who’s actually in charge
The Windy City Cannabis dispensary is part of Curaleaf’s $830 million of acquisition of Grassroots Cannabis. But with the deal stalled pending regulatory approval, employees say a critical question has gone unanswered: “Who is our boss?”
Employees of a Weed Street dispensary slammed their “corporate overlords” on Wednesday for allegedly pushing back against their unionization push — though it’s unclear who’s currently running the pot shop in Goose Island.
During a news conference Wednesday outside Windy City Cannabis, 923 W. Weed St., two workers said they’re organizing to fight for better wages and bonuses, added job security and considerations to keep workers safe amid the pandemic.
“We’re in the middle of a terrible recession and workers are always the people who are going to face the brunt of it,” Jake Lytle, a product specialist, told reporters. “So we need to make sure that we can keep ourselves protected.”
Lytle and the shop’s other employees will soon vote on whether to join the United Food and Commercial Union’s Local 881, which already includes employees from Cresco Labs’ Sunnyside dispensary in Lake View. Ballots are expected to go out Thursday and the union election should wrap up next month.
But as the dispensary workers attempt to organize, product specialist Melina Gutierrez said a critical question has gone unanswered: “Who is our boss?”
Windy City is currently being swallowed up after its affiliate, Grassroots Cannabis, was sold to Massachusetts-based Curaleaf in July in a blockbuster $830 million deal. Curaleaf, which trades publicly and operates in 23 states, describes itself as “the largest vertically integrated cannabis operator in the United States,” using a descriptor for pot firms that both grow and sell marijuana.
However, the acquisition of Chicago-based Grassroots is still “pending regulatory approvals from the state of Illinois,” according to a Curaleaf spokesperson. A spokeswoman for Grassroots declined to comment.
Through operating agreements, Grassroots’ owners have been able to skirt a state rule that limits dispensary operators to holding 10 total licenses in Illinois.
State records show Windy City currently holds five licenses for pot shops across the state, while Grassroots’ dispensary brand Greenhouse has seven more. Windy City also has the rights to another three dispensary licenses and Greenhouse can obtain one more.
That means Curaleaf has to sell off the six licenses that would put the company over the limit, according to a December report by the local cannabis publication Grown In.
A spokesman for the state agency that regulates dispensaries didn’t respond to questions about Curaleaf’s deal with Grassroots.
The deal is part of a larger trend of mergers and acquisitions by corporatized weed firms looking to cash in on Illinois’ now-booming pot industry. For Gutierrez, the lack of clarity about who’s in control at Windy City has left her and other employees feeling like “pawns in the game.”
After Windy City employees filed a petition Jan. 14 to hold a union election, human resource representatives from Curaleaf and Grassroots started holding meetings to dissuade them from joining, Gutierrez said. Dispensary managers also handed out fliers claiming workers would be on the hook for large dues payments, and that unions use “sweetheart” contract provisions to “pay back” those who pushed to organize.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez said the store’s daily operations have “just been ignored by our corporate overlords.” Workers said pipes at the dispensary burst twice during the recent cold spell and a bathroom has repeatedly been flooded.
On Wednesday, Lytle claimed that sewage water began leaking into the dispensary showroom during business hours. As a result, he said a septic pipe was run from that bathroom down through the dispensing area and out the store’s sole entryway.
“Nearly everyone working right now feels they’re being subjected unnecessarily to unsafe and unsanitary conditions,” he added.
On top of that, the store is struggling to stock personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer for employees coming into contact with hundreds of customers buying up to $40,000 worth of pot each day, the workers said.
“They need to be spending that on keeping the customers and their staff safe,” Gutierrez said.
Though recreational marijuana has been legalized for over a year, few dispensary workers have moved to unionize. Moises Zavala, director of organizing for UFCW Local 881, noted that workers from just three pot shops have filed petitions to hold union elections and only Sunnyside has voted to join up.