More budtenders joining unions in Canada

| David Brown

A “green wave” of cannabis store employees has been joining a union representing more than 40,000 workers across multiple sectors in Ontario.

UFCW 1006A represents workers at more than a dozen cannabis retail stores in Ontario, with employees at a Sessions Cannabis location in Hamilton, Ontario, recently voting to join the union. The union says it also represents employees at cannabis growing facilities in Canada and the US.

Employees at Superette in Ottawa also recently renewed their contract, covering six workers at the store for three years, to March 28, 2027. Employees at the store had first joined the union in 2021. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, one of Ontario’s largest private sector local unions, represents some 42,000 members in industries like grocery retail, food processing, restaurants, hotels, security, retail commerce, laundry, warehousing/distribution, transit, and cannabis.  

The Sessions Cannabis in Hamilton, located in Red Hill, is the second Sessions Cannabis location in Hamilton to join the union in 2024. Sessions has five locations in Hamilton and more than 40 stores in Ontario. 

The new bargaining group at Sessions Red Hill consists of 10 members working as budtenders and key leads at the store. The union says the key issues for employees who joined the union include benefits, health and safety concerns, staffing, scheduling, workload, and increased responsibilities with no additional pay.

“UFCW 1006A is proud to be the best union in Ontario for cannabis workers,” said Union President Wayne Hanley. “With the protection and security of UFCW 1006A representation, cannabis workers are transforming their lives and workplaces for the better. We are proud to welcome our newest members from Sessions Cannabis in Hamilton.”

Workers at Superette Wellington (Tokyo Smoke) in Ottawa also ratified their first union contract in 2021, signing a term from March 28, 2021, to March 27, 2024, covering 25 employees at the cannabis store.

A second, third, and fourth Tokyo Smoke location joined the union in 2021. In 2022, employees at a Tokyo Smoke in Thunder Bay and Toronto joined UFCW 1006A and in 2023 a Tokyo Smoke in Hamilton.

The first Sessions Cannabis location in Hamilton also joined the union in 2021, followed by workers at a Timmins Sessions Cannabis location in 2022. However, Sessions president and CEO Darryl Allen says the employees at the Timmins locations voted to decertify their membership in 2023, but a representative for UFCW Canada Local 1006A says it’s still represented by the union. Workers at Plateau Cannabis in Ottawa voted to Join the union in 2022, as well.

(Note: This article has been edited to include the claim and counter claim about decertification of the Timmins Sessions location).

UFCW 1006A is not the only organization representing cannabis workers in Canada. The BC Budtenders Union, a division of UFCW 1518, has slowly been gathering members since it became the first union to represent budtenders in Canada in 2020. Employees at around ten stores in BC have joined the union, as well as one producer (Potanicals).

In April, employees at two new Trees Cannabis locations in BC joined a union representing cannabis industry budtenders. The organization is hosting an event in Victoria, BC, on June 15, called Solidariweed, to bring together members and other workers. 

In addition, the union recently announced that workers at Canna Cabana in BC have voted to authorize strike action as the organization heads to mediation with the company. This is not a guarantee of a strike, but the option will provide the union with more leverage in those negotiations.

In March, employees at a recently opened Canna Cabana location in Vancouver joined the union. A post on the union’s Facebook page says the two-year contract for those employees includes a 6.5% wage increase, retroactive pay on all wage increases to November 11, 2023, doubling the call-in premium to $1.00 per hour, and “timely and fair redistribution of cannabis samples from sales reps.”

BC began allowing producers to provide samples to retailers in 2023.

Employees at Eggs Canna on East Hastings in downtown Vancouver voted to join the union in early 2022 but changed course shortly after that, voting to decertify union membership, meaning it no longer acts as their bargaining agent.