Curaleaf’s refusal to recognize and bargain with unionized cannabis workers in Chicago was ruled unlawful by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Dec. 5.

When Cannabis Business Times reached out to Curaleaf’s corporate communications department, a spokesperson said the company “won’t be commenting.”

The case stems from March 31, 2021, when election results revealed workers at Wind City Cannabis on Weed Street in Chicago voted, 11-10, to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881 union. The dispensary on Weed Street is one of 10 Illinois retail locations owned by Massachusetts-based Curaleaf.

In April 2021, Curaleaf’s legal counsel submitted five objections to the election results, including the claim that delays in the U.S. Postal Service caused voter disenfranchisement for the mail-in election. While there were “approximately” 29 eligible voters, according to NLBR’s ballot tally, only 21 valid ballots were counted. Zero ballots were challenged.

Election Tally by Tony Lange on Scribd

According to Curaleaf’s legal counsel, “at least one voter had returned a ballot, but it had not been received by the [NLRB Region 13] as of the ballot count on March 31.”

Upon review, the NLRB found one employee’s delay in returning her mail-in ballot on March 18 (three days after she received it) resulted in it arriving to the region one day after the ballot count, which was “beyond the control of the region and does not provide a basis for setting aside this election,” Regional Director Terry Morgan wrote.

The election included all full-time and regular part-time product specialists employed by Curaleaf from its Weed Street location, according to the NLRB decision and order from Dec. 5.  Excluded from the election were managers, product specialist leads, agents in charge, office clerical employees and guards, professional employees, and supervisors.

“We have had to endure a lot of anti-union propaganda from the company, but we held strong and the majority of us voted to join the UFCW,” Jake, a production specialist at the Weed Street location, said in a Local 881 press release following the election results last year. “We are super excited to start the collective bargaining for better pay, better benefits and a union contract. We hope that our bosses will meet us in good faith at the bargaining table, and we hope that more dispensary workers in Chicago join us in fighting for dignity in the workplace.”

The UFCW Local 881 chapter was certified on Aug. 5, 2021, as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the Weed Street workers, according to the NLRB.

In an April 26, 2022, letter to Sara Raasch, a Curaleaf general manager in the Chicago area, Local 881 UFCW President Steven Powell requested that Curaleaf representatives contact Local 881’s union office and begin bargaining.

UFCW Letter to Curaleaf by Tony Lange on Scribd

In an email sent May 5, 2022, Cristina Nutzman, Curaleaf’s assistant general counsel for labor and employment, wrote to Powell, “The company did not agree to recognize Local 881 as the exclusive representative of the employees at the ‘Weed Street’ store as stated in your letter. The letter also made a demand for the company to bargain with Local 881. We intend to challenge the NLRB decision … As such, at this time [Curaleaf] will not agree to bargain.”

This week, the NLRB ordered Curaleaf to cease and desist from “failing and refusing to recognize” UFCW Local 811 as the exclusive collecting bargaining representative for the Weed Street workers.

“We find that [Curaleaf’s] conduct constitutes an unlawful failure and refusal to recognize and bargain with the union in violation of [the National Labor Relations] Act,” the order read. “By failing and refusing since May 5, 2022, to recognize and bargain with the union as the exclusive collective bargaining representative of the employees in the appropriate unit, the respondent has engaged in unfair labor practices affecting commerce within the meaning of … the Act.”

In addition, the NLRB order directed Curaleaf to cease and desist from interfering with, restraining or coercing employees from exercising their labor rights.

As part of a 105-page motion summary judgement from September, NLRB general counsel Rachel Stopchinski wrote the inclusion of that order would provide “the full panoply of remedies available to ensure that the victims of this unlawful conduct are made whole for losses suffered as a result of [Curaleaf’s] unfair labor practices.”

According to the UFCW Local 881 press release from March 2021, the Weed Street workers were motivated to unionize to improve their working conditions, citing “issues at the dispensary such as health and safety, ventilation problems, inadequate wages, lack of benefits, and a serious need for more COVID-19 protocols and protections for employees and customers.”

In addition to Curaleaf, UFCW Local 881 represents cannabis workers from Cresco Labs, Ascend Wellness and Verano throughout various locations in Illinois.

Following the Weed Street workers’ union election last year, fellow Curaleaf workers in Worth, Mokena and Skokie, Ill., also voted to join UFCW Local 881.