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Last week, workers at Cresco Labs, one of Illinois’ largest cannabis companies, voted to join the Local 881 chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).  The vote, conducted by the National Labor Relations Board just two weeks after adult recreational-use sales began in the state, is the first by Illinois cannabis workers.

Cresco currently employs around 130 employees, but the vote will affect only about 100 of those workers.  Because Cresco’s cultivation employees are already covered under federal labor laws for agricultural workers, only non-cultivation personnel are eligible to join the bargaining unit, such as those handling packaging, transportation, extraction and infusion, and front-end staff.

Cresco Labs has also drawn the attention of major politicians in Illinois and across the country. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, mentioned the Cresco Labs workers in a tweet last week, encouraging Cresco employees to vote for unionization and vowing to help double union membership across the country should he get elected as president.

Although the UFCW is primarily known for its representation of workers in the grocery industry, in recent years the labor union has expanded its membership to include cannabis workers.  Although a first in Illinois, the UFCW has successfully unionized tens of thousands of cannabis workers across the country, including in California, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania — a figure that will undoubtedly increase as the cannabis industry continues to grow.  Other unions are likely to get involved, including Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for security workers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters for transport workers, and International Union of Operating Engineers for maintenance workers.

Notably, Illinois’ Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act expressly states that the “General Assembly supports and encourages labor neutrality in the cannabis industry.” Unlike in California, Illinois companies are not required to have “labor peace agreements” in place.  Even so, companies seeking operating licenses are given credit for having such agreements.  These agreements include, among other things, that the licensee would not interfere with a union’s efforts to organize and represent workers’ interests.

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