A Green Thumb Industries employee died while working at the multi-state operator’s cultivation facility in Rock Island, Illinois, on July 14, 2023. The death has sparked outrage and questions about the working conditions at GTI and many other cannabis businesses.
In a report from WeedWeek, the coroner for Rock Island County told the publication the incident was being investigated as a natural death and not related to workplace conditions and that a spokesperson from the Illinois Department of Agriculture said the death occurred in a non-work area of the facility.
Multiple media reports identified the woman as Julie M. Devinney, 60, of Rock Island, and said she had chronic health problems, including COPD.
In response to Devinney’s death, Chicago-area Teamsters Local 777 sent an open letter to GTI asking the multi-state operator to address safety concerns of its workers.
“While it’s still too early to conclusively determine the circumstances that led to this individual’s untimely death, what we do know is that there have been significant concerns about occupational hazards at this operation — particularly regarding respiratory health — in the past,” Teamsters Local 777 president Jim Glimco said in the letter. “We also know that those concerns haven’t always been adequately addressed when brought to the attention of higher-ups. GTI needs to take drastic and immediate action to address the safety concerns of its workforce. This includes allowing them to unionize and bargaining in good faith so the workers can enforce safety standards through a union contract.”
According to OSHA, there have been five complaints and one referral filed against GTI since January 25, 2022, three of which cite safety and health concerns at GTI’s Rock Island facility and are still under investigation. OSHA has issued GTI four safety violations in that time.
The Teamsters’ open letter also includes a statement from Magen Townsend, a former GTI employee at the Rock Island facility, who said employees “had serious safety concerns that weren’t addressed.”
On July 19, GTI CEO Ben Kovler posted a statement on social media, confirming the death and saying Devinney had been part of the GTI family for more than three years.
“She was a special part of the team, and we will miss her positive energy and uplifting presence. Our team is heartbroken over this shocking loss, and we are doing everything we can to support them,” he wrote. “While I’d prefer to keep the focus on supporting our team and Julie’s family during this difficult time, I feel it’s important to address some speculation that the Teamsters Union and others have attempted to spread through the media and social channels. Unfortunately, this includes insinuations that Julie’s death was related to working conditions in our production facility. We deeply regret this attempt to push their own agenda by instilling fear and uncertainty on top of the grief we all feel.”
Kovler added that “to the best of our knowledge,” Devinney’s death was not related to the working environment and that the death was due to natural causes, based on a report from the Rock Island County coroner.
“The safety of our team is our top priority, and we regularly review working conditions to ensure we are adhering to the highest safety standards for our team. Results from air quality testing conducted to date have complied with all regulatory standards and we feel confident in the work environment and safety measures we have in place. However, if at some point in time we learn new information that points to a safety risk for our team, we will take immediate action to resolve any potential health concerns to the greatest extend possible.”
Although the death was determined to be from natural causes, the incident at GTI was the second death at a multi-state operator’s cultivation facility in the past two years. In January 2022, Lorna McMurrey, a 27-year-old employee filling pre-rolls at Trulieve’s cultivation facility in Holyoke, Massachusetts, said she couldn’t breathe and later died at a nearby hospital. Investigators from OSHA determined she died of occupational asthma after inhaling ground cannabis dust. Trulieve was later fined $35,219 for three workplace violations, but the Florida-based company reached a settlement with OSHA that included a reduced fine of $14,502.
— Patrick Wagner