Trail Blazin’ Productions
I grew up in a very pro-union household. My mother was a flight attendant for 40 years and always complained about the “stupid women voting against their own self-interests” when they believed the hyperbole the airlines spewed about unions.
As a board member of the Association of Washington Businesses, I recently visited ALCOA and the Ferndale Refinery (two of the largest manufacturing businesses in Whatcom County, Washington) and when I asked the workers what was the best part of their job, they said it was the union. One of my best friends is a teacher, and her union fights tooth and nail for her and her co-workers to get fair wages, fair working conditions and fair class sizes. I have been pro-union, to the core, for my entire life.
That said, since joining the legal cannabis industry, I am starting to question my undying loyalty to unions.
In 2015, the local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, UFCW 21, killed our bill to create an agricultural cannabis commission, which is single-handedly the best thing we could do for cannabis farmers in Washington state. Commissions are pseudo-state-sanctioned organizations, by the farmers for the farmers, that work to better the conditions for the industry. Normally, a commission would market its agricultural commodity, like Washington apples. However, cannabis doesn’t need to be marketed; we need research on topics such as pest management and yield production. And this research should be paid for by the farmers and accessible to the farmers, not held by some for-profit entity looking to exploit farmers for their personal financial gain. We also want an agricultural commission because in Washington state, cannabis is not considered agriculture, which creates all sorts of unintended consequences.
For reasons that remain a mystery to this day, UFCW 21 killed this bill. I personally believe that the union doesn’t have enough information to understand why we need this bill and thus decided killing it was the best option. However, they didn’t return phone calls, emails or even pretend to try to understand why this bill was important.
Fast forward to 2020, and the union has introduced a bill (House Bill 2361) with a point system and if licensees don’t reach enough “points,” their license is cancelled. CANCELLED. Points are administered for (surprise, surprise) being part of the union, offering health benefits, offering retirement benefits, paying 85% of your employees 150% of the state minimum wage, etc.
First of all, 150% of minimum wage in Washington state is $20.25 an hour. NO ONE at our company — CEOs, directors, NO ONE — makes that kind of money. But we’ve never missed a pay period, never laid anyone off and managed to deal with the industry’s ups and downs as a team. Part of the reason we started Trail Blazin’ was to bring good jobs to Whatcom County, and while we would like nothing more than to pay people a living wage (my husband and myself included), we’re just not there yet.
Second, most people don’t realize that we can’t write off anything on our taxes that isn’t a cost of goods sold. It must touch the plant to be a write-off. If we offer health or retirement benefits, we must claim that as income and pay taxes on it. Thus, offering benefits isn’t just difficult because of the cost, but also because we get no tax relief for doing it AND we have to pay taxes on the benefits as if they were profit. How many small, family businesses can do that?
Third, retirement? You mean like investing money derived from selling a Schedule I narcotic on the New York Stock Exchange? Do I really need to go into detail why this isn’t a real option for licensed cannabis companies? I’m pretty sure that’s illegal and I’m 100% sure I haven’t found an investment broker that will allow us to do that.
And finally, why just cannabis? If you’re going to have a bill like this to support workers, why not make it for all industries? Why not for tobacco and alcohol, industries that have the resources to be able to raise the bar for their employees? Why not laundromats, the small business with statistically the highest success rate? Assuming cannabis companies are raking in the dough shows a fundamental lack of understanding of a cannabis entrepreneur’s reality.
I thought unions were about supporting workers. And I thought supporting workers meant supporting small businesses while keeping big businesses in check. The passage of UFCW 21’s proposed bill will not only kill small businesses, it will cause those that remain to lay off at least 50% of our employees and resort to increased automation. Everything we have done as business owners to support our local communities will be cut short.
I still believe unions are important and inherently good. But man, the way UFCW 21 has conducted themselves so far in Washington regarding the cannabis industry is enough to make this life-long union supporter rethink her loyalty.