Workers at The Grove location of SWADE Cannabis may soon become the first cannabis workers in Missouri to unionize.

2021 saw growing support for and implementation of union charters in the cannabis industry, including in Illinois – where over the last two years, 11 dispensaries have joined either UFCW Local 881 or Teamsters Local 777.

In Missouri, Bernadette Faure is pushing toward unionization for cannabis retail workers. Employees at The Grove location of SWADE have already submitted a petition for a union election to company management and the National Labor Relations Board. Those employees are expected to vote on unionization in February in an election administered by the NLRB.

“We are committed to offering industry-leading pay and benefits starting on the first day of employment. While we will not stand in the way of unionization efforts, we feel it’s important to recognize that Swade employees receive an industry-leading starting wage and tips, excellent health care benefits with medical, dental and vision coverage at 100 percent of the premiums paid for employees and 50 percent for dependents,” a statement from Jack Haddox, director of SWADE dispensary operations, read. “We are proud of the environment we are creating and are committed to remaining leaders in the industry.”

For Faure, compensation and benefits are only the beginning of the discussion.

“Saint Louis University sold me an education that would net me a career. I invested in education so I could speak to this plant’s benefit. I worked diligently and with a passion to execute the highest level of cannabis medical care available in St. Louis, to the positive review of many many patients, brands, and indeed the company as well,” she explained.

“I see a union as a path forward so I may continue that important medical work and receive adequate compensation for the detailed, complicated work we do, unabridged by corporate interest. I love my job, and while others see opportunity as companies grow, scale, and open new licenses, I see a turning tide where dispensaries attempt to lower ticket times and get people in and out like we see in Illinois. My patients are not interested in that experience. We must advocate for them as we advocate for our dignity and equity in the workplace.”

Faure believes that businesses should welcome and support unionization as a tool for employee satisfaction and, by extension, customer retention.

“Investing in your workforce sharply reduces worker turnover and is good for businesses. People throughout time like seeing one person when they buy cannabis. They develop a rapport, and we have tools to save their favorite items to their account. Sometimes their behavior or use may change, and we’ll follow up with them and just make sure they don’t need any additional assistance.”

“We interact with the patient. We should be leading our selection in the store,” she explained.

When asked how much influence retail employees should have over the businesses they work for, Faure told Greenway, “The business is very simple – sell products patients need. Now perhaps we don’t know everything, but we’re seeing our neighborhood friends come through that front door, and they’re telling us what they want; there was a time the company valued this input.”

In Missouri, retail workers must pass a background check and register with the state to obtain a facility agent ID, verifying they are eligible to work in a cannabis business. The facility agent ID license costs $75 and is valid for three years. The facility agent ID allows workers to be employed at any licensed cannabis facility in the state. There are currently no other requirements for retail cannabis workers.

Nationally, budtenders average $15.74 hourly, according to Vangst. Workers at SWADE start at $15.75 hourly.

While The Grove workers will be the first to vote on unionization, sources say retail workers at other dispensaries around the state have started exploring unionization. Another vote at a separate location appears imminent.

“Unions set the floor, so even places that don’t unionize have to compete with the better wages and benefits we bargain, so we help bring up the standards for everyone,” Faure said.

“[Other cannabis retail workers] are overwhelmingly supportive; it’s time for us to be treated like the medical professionals that we are.”

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