Weed workers walk: Rise marijuana dispensary employees strike in Niles, Joliet

Union representatives said the strike is over unfair labor practices. They have been in negotiations with the company on a new contract since June.

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Employees of Rise Dispensary located at 9621 N. Milwaukee Ave. picket outside their store demanding better working conditions and fair pay, Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Niles, Ill.

Employees of Rise Dispensary located at 9621 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Niles picket outside their store. Workers at three Rise stores walked out Wednesday. They are demanding better working conditions and fair pay.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Workers at three Chicago-area Rise marijuana dispensaries walked off the job Wednesday for better pay and improved working conditions after months of negotiations failed to bring an agreement on a contract with the company.

More than 100 employees at two Rise locations in Joliet and one in Niles are taking part in the open-ended strike, which union reps said is over unfair labor practices. The walkout began at 4:20 p.m. and took place a day ahead of April 20, or 4/20, the numerical code for marijuana’s high holiday.

Workers protesting outside the Niles location, 9621 N. Milwaukee Ave., held signs reading “On Strike” and shouted “Happy 4/20” at cars speeding by. Public Enemy’s anti-establishment anthem “Fight the Power” blared from a speaker. Many drivers showed their support by honking and revving their engines.

Reilly Drew, an employee of the dispensary and member of the bargaining team, said the walkout date was chosen to send a clear message.

Employees of Rise Dispensary located at 9621 N. Milwaukee Ave. walk off the job and go on strike at 4:20 P.M., Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Niles, Ill.

Rise employees in Niles and Joliet walked off the job at 4:20 p.m., one day ahead of 4/20, the marijuana holiday. The workers joined Teamsters Local 777 last April and began negotiations with the company in June. Workers want better pay and retirement contributions.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“We have been nice, we’ve been working with them, but when they don’t work with us we don’t have to give that back to them, and we don’t have to put up with unfair labor practices committed against our workers,” Drew said. “We’re sending a message on a very important day for this industry.”

He said he hopes the strike encourages Rise to bargain in good faith.

“They’ll give us interest in something and then lead us along, and then it’s a dead end where we’ve spent a lot of time seriously engaging with them and doing the process in a way that’s meaningful, and we find that they’re not really there with us,” Drew said. “It all stems from respect and wellness.”

Employees in Niles voted to join Teamsters Local 777 last April and began negotiating on a contract with the company in June. In addition to better pay, workers want the contract to include retirement contributions.

Rise is a subsidiary of Green Thumb Industries, which Drew said has been raking in profits over the last couple of years. He wants workers’ wages to reflect that success.

Employees of Rise Dispensary located at 9621 N. Milwaukee Ave. picket outside their store demanding better working conditions and fair pay, Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Niles, Ill.

Workers hold signs and rally drivers along Milwaukee Avenue on Wednesday afternoon. Strikers are prepared for a long fight, but they hope for a quick resolution.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“We work for a very successful company, they had a billion dollars in revenue in 2022,” Drew said. “We are wanting our value to be recognized within that framework and within that context.”

A Green Thumb Industries spokesperson said in a statement that the company respects the rights of its employees to organize.

“We made a fair offer to the union and will continue to work toward labor peace,” the spokesperson said. “During this time, we have made accommodations to continue our store operations to ensure our patients and customers can access the products they rely on for their well-being.”

Tim Burns, another employee and bargaining team member, said strikers are prepared for a prolonged fight but hope the company can be convinced to bargain in good faith.

“We’re in it for the long haul, or the short haul,” Burns said. “It’s up to the company.”

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