Victoria Budtender who was fired for unionizing gets job back

| Staff

A Budtender in Victoria is going back to work after he was fired three weeks ago for what he and a local union says was due to his effort to organize workers, according to a press release for the union. 

Hired in May 2021, Niko Kruzel recently approached a union organizer for the BC Budtender Union, a cannabis-focused division of UFCW 1518 to address complaints with issues relating to scheduling, inconsistent and low pay, and lack of health benefits at Burnside Dispensary in Victoria, BC, also known as B Buds.

Kruzel says he had never had any past issues with his employer, but three days after employees voted to unionize he was fired via text messaging citing a “lack of trust” and “poor work ethic”.

“I was surprised and shocked to get that late-night text,” said Kruzel in a press release from the union. “It felt like a knee-jerk reaction from the employer and showed they didn’t know a lot about running a business.”

The union then filed a complaint with the Labour Relations Board, arguing that the employer fired Kruzel unlawfully and took away staff snacks in retaliation against the workers for unionizing. 

“This is all too common in the retail industry, and frankly, it’s childish,” says Eric Nordal, an organizer with the BC Budtender Union. “More often than not, we see employers try everything they can to prevent workers from joining a union by coercing, intimidating, taking away benefits, or straight-up lying to them. Luckily, here in BC, it is illegal, and we do have avenues to fight back.” 

After the complaint was brought forward to the Labour Board, the employer agreed to reinstate Kruzel, refill snacks that were taken away, and reinstate a 20% employee discount. Kruzel will be heading back into work Friday, November 26. 

“I’m excited to be back on the team that banded together to unionize and that looks out for each other when the employer doesn’t,” said Kruzel. “I’m looking forward to future negotiations and to serving people, as I’ve always done.”

Budtenders at Burnside Buds are looking forward to bargaining their first contract and will be fighting for consistent schedules, a living wage, health benefits and more. 

UFCW Local 1518 represents more than 26,000 members working in the community health, hospitality, retail, grocery, industrial, and professional sectors across British Columbia. The Budtenders Union represents 75 workers at eight different cannabis dispensary locations, as well as 10 workers at the Potanicals grow facility in Peachland.

They also recently unionized two Seed & Stone locations, the Fort St and Gordon St shops in downtown Victoria.

“There has been a growing movement of cannabis workers building power in their workplaces by unionizing,” says Eva Prkachin, Union Representative for UFCW Local 1518. “These workers have deep expertise and skill in their field, but their wages and workplace conditions have lagged behind. We’ve been working with members in our BC Bud division to raise wages, improve health and safety conditions, increase educational opportunities, and build their power at work.”

A request for comment from Burnside, doing business as “B BUDS.CA”, was not available by press time. The retailer first opened prior to legalization as a medical cannabis dispensary before becoming licensed by the province for non-medical sales in late 2020.