A unionization effort at a medical cannabis dispensary in Portsmouth, R.I., took a few rocky turns more than a year ago.

Retail workers at the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center voted, 21-1, in April 2021 to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 328 in a milestone moment for the state’s cannabis industry: A team of budtenders, keyholders, online team members and delivery associates were the first dispensary workers in the state to unionize.

But two months later, the Greenleaf workers held a strike after the company terminated keyholder Ben Telford’s employment because his “services were no longer required.” Telford was a member of Greenleaf’s union bargaining committee and had a “very loud voice for myself and for others on the team,” he told Cannabis Business Times in June 2021.

CBT reached out to Greenleaf CEO Seth Bock at that time but never received a response.

RELATED: Greenleaf Terminates Employee Involved With Union Negotiations in Rhode Island; Worker Strike Ensues

More than six months after that—thanks to UFCW Local 328 filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board—Telford was offered a reinstatement package with back pay for lost wages.

While Telford accepted the back pay, he decided to pursue an opportunity elsewhere, Local 328 Director of Organizing Sam Marvin told CBT this August.

But in the latest development out of Portsmouth, Local 328 officials announced Aug. 18 that the Greenleaf workers voted unanimously to ratify their first contract—more than 16 months after originally voting to unionize.

The two-year agreement includes:

Immediate wage increases for all employees, including up to 22% for employees with one year or more of service;additional wage increases in the second year;immediate improvement in starting rates for all classifications by over $2 an hour with an additional increase in the second year;paid vacations and improved paid sick time;protection of bargaining unit work;clothing allowance;additional paid holidays;protected time and a half on Sunday;robust grievance procedure and workplace protections;newly secured opportunity to earn tips; ratification bonus of $1,000.

Nicholas Ventetuolo, a delivery driver at Greenleaf and a member of the negotiating committee, hopes his team’s victory becomes contagious for other cannabis retail workers in Rhode Island, he said in a Local 328 press release following the vote.

“This contract sets a tremendous precedent for cannabis workers in Rhode Island, at a time where the industry is undergoing massive changes in preparation for the introduction of recreational sales,” Ventetuolo said. “Our contract is a powerful statement on the collective power of a united workforce.”

Ventetuolo added, “It is our hope that the other compassion centers in our state will take notice of our victory and use it as a motivating factor to begin their own fight for better wages, benefits and working conditions. We will be ready to stand with them.”

The Greenleaf workers’ contract ratification comes ahead of the Dec. 1, 2022, launch of adult-use sales in the state. 

RELATED: Rhode Island Becomes 19th State to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis

Legislation that was passed in May dictates that the state’s nine compassionate care centers already licensed in the medical cannabis program will have the first go in the adult-use retail market but would need to pay a $125,000 fee—to be deposited in a social equity fund—to become a “hybrid” cannabis retailer.

In addition, the legislation includes 24 new adult-use licenses, which will be distributed equally among six geographic zones. One retail license in each zone will be reserved for a social equity applicant and another in each zone for a workers’ cooperative applicant.

Marvin, who also serves as a union representative for Local 328, said the ratified union contract represents a hard-fought victory for the Greenleaf workers.

“Together, they prevailed both at the labor board and at the bargaining table,” Marvin said in the release. “By speaking up and standing together, they have raised the standards here in Rhode Island for cannabis workers. We applaud the workers at Greenleaf for their dedication and commitment to securing this historic victory.”

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