A group of workers at a cannabis grow operation in Gresham walked off the job Monday, saying their efforts to form a union are being blocked by their employer.
Workers and officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 said the company CBN Holdings has been interfering with organizing efforts involving about 20 employees who work in multiple facets of the operation — from nursery to packaging. Speaking by phone from a demonstration of about 25 people outside the CBN facility, Justin Brown said he was one of four workers who was fired after initiating the process to form a union.
“The timing of it was very suspicious,” Brown said. “It was after we had signed union cards, it was after we had been talking about it. We did have some co-workers talk with at least one of our managers about it.”
In a statement sent to OPB Monday afternoon, CBN Holdings chief operating officer Matt Hurd denied that the company was interfering with efforts to form a union and said it had only become aware of those efforts on Monday.
“This morning’s walk out by a small group of 6 employees, was the first that any union has been mentioned and Cannabis Nation was completely unaware of any efforts to unionize,” Hurd said. “The allegation that the company terminated employees due to union efforts is completely false.”
Hurd said that the UFCW had not contacted national authorities to form a union.
Brown said he and the other former employees reached out to the UFCW in January. He says workers’ primary concern is safety, and while the company has addressed some safety concerns — such as training in the handling of pesticides — others remain. For instance, Brown said the company has not been conducting regular fire drills, even though the electricity they’re using and the tight working conditions create a potential fire hazard.
“From my first week on the job, people would come up to me and give me warnings ‘hey look out for this’ and ‘keep this in mind’ — it’s on everyone’s mind,” Brown said, adding that “worrying about these hazards” is likely making workers less efficient.
“We at Cannabis Nation take safety very seriously and as a result, employees at our cultivation undergo extensive and ongoing trainings to keep them safe in the workplace,” Hurd said in the statement sent to OPB. “If corrections are necessary, we are prompt and thorough with our response and we continue to have an open-door policy for employee complaints.”
Brown said workers don’t have significant demands around wages or hours, though they would like more transparency around promotion opportunities.
UFCW says part of the workers’ problem is that when Oregon legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, it didn’t lay out clear rules for employees who might want to form a union at a grow operation.
“Oregon cannabis employees have been left without a legal process allowing them to address unsafe working conditions, insufficient pay, and lack of access to healthcare,” said Sandy Humphrey, Secretary-Treasurer of UFCW Local 555 in a statement Monday.
Union officials say they want workers at CBN Holdings to be allowed to form a union. In the meantime, they’re calling on dispensaries and cannabis consumers to boycott CBN products, which are often marketed under the brand Cannabis Nation.