Budtenders union announces new membership

| Staff | ,

A union representing BC budtenders has added two new stores to their membership in recent weeks. 

The BC Budtenders Union says new members at two Seed & Stone locations mean that they now represent workers at 75% of cannabis stores in Victoria. 

The most recent agreement at two Victoria Seed & Stone locations brings members into a collective agreement with an already unionized Seed & Stone location in Delta, BC. The union says workers achieved a 15% raise, along with guaranteed wage increases, improvements to breaks and scheduling, plus a grievance process and “shop-steward language”.

The union, a division of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) 1518, also recently ratified a first contract at two Original FARM Cannabis locations, which, like Seed & Stone, is a local chain with five locations. UFCW 1518 has over 23,000 union members across BC and the Yukon.

“With this contract, the Seed & Stone staff have achieved a fairer and much more respectful workplace,” says UFCW 1518 Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson. “Moving forward, they can expect safer working conditions, more opportunities to have a say in how they’re treated, as well as better wages.”

Vikram Sachdeva, the founder of Seed & Stone, says he’s happy to see his employees getting what amounts to a fifty-cent raise, and has even matched that raise for his employees at his two non-unionized stores. As a small business, though, he says it feels like he was being unfairly targeted. 

“We have tried to do everything we can. We just want to make everyone happy. But it’s a hard time in this industry and it feels like one thing after another. We’re not some big chain, we’re a small business too and just doing our best to survive in a new industry.”

A new store can take time to become profitable, he points out, noting all retailers in BC have been hit with a lot of challenges in a brand-new industry, such as delivery shutdowns due to weather and previous union actions. 

The union representing BC cannabis retail employees has slowly been gathering members since it became the first union to represent budtenders in Canada in 2020.

In April 2021, employees at the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, an unlicensed medical dispensary, joined the union, and in June 2021, employees at two Trees Cannabis locations joined as well, as did employees at B Buds

The same year, workers at BC cannabis producer Potanicals Green Growers also voted to join the union. This was the first cannabis production facility to unionize in Canada. 

Employees at one Eggs Canna location in Vancouver voted to join the union in early 2022.

At the time, UFCW 1518 Secretary-Treasurer Johnson described cannabis store owners like Oana Cappellano, owner of Eggs, with three locations in BC,  as “profiteers.” Cappellano, who opened the first Eggs Canna as a “legacy” retailer in Vancouver in 2014, took offence at the accusation at the time. 

“We were very disheartened and concerned to see the union make statements such as ‘The workers want their pay, benefits, respect, and overall working conditions to reflect this high-level training,’ and ‘ultimately, they [the staff] want fairness,” wrote Cappellano in a press release.

She said she felt the union’s statements did not reflect the sentiments held by the majority of their staff.

“Further,” she added, “characterizing hard-working entrepreneurs as simply ‘profiteers’ creates a further division between unions and employers, with the employees being caught in the middle.”

The BC Budtender Union also says it is welcoming workers at Yaletown Cannabis Store in Vancouver to its ranks.

Unions and cannabis in Canada

In August 2022, the BC General Employees Union launched a strike that shut down the province’s cannabis and alcohol distribution system, leaving cannabis stores with no access to new deliveries for weeks.

The SQDC, which manages cannabis sales in Quebec, has been dealing with an ongoing strike, which continues in 22 of their 90 branches. Although these branches are still open, they are operating at reduced hours and face picket line pressures. 

In June, members of a different union, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), voted to accept an agreement with the SQDC for increased wages, hours, and better working conditions.

The provincial organization is still negotiating with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 28 of its 90 branches. In September, the Superior Court of Quebec issued an injunction to limit union “pressure tactics” against SQDC.

In 2020, a court ruled a BC cannabis company had unfairly penalized workers for trying to unionize. In September 2020, the union began organizing and soon applied to be certified for 17 employees at a Peachland, BC operation. 

Then, on October 5, the company laid off nine employees at the same Peachland operation, citing “the Company’s financial circumstances.”  The union argued these employees were laid off for seeking to unionize. The court agreed. 

In 2016, UFCW tried to organize workers at a MedReleaf facility in Ontario, but the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled the workers did not have the right to unionize. The union has appealed that ruling.