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Wellness Connection of Maine Settles NLRB Charges With UFCW

For the first time, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has recognized that federal labor law protects workers in the medical marijuana industry. The government authorized a complaint absent settlement of the charges that Wellness Connection of Maine, a medical marijuana company, repeatedly retaliated against and interfered with workers who were exercising their right to form a union. The company subsequently settled charges alleging nearly a dozen instances where Wellness Connection violated the National Labor Relations Act and the rights of its employees.

For the first time, the NLRB has recognized that federal labor law protects workers in the medical marijuana industry.

For the first time, the NLRB has recognized that federal labor law protects workers in the medical marijuana industry.

The alleged violations began last February, after workers at an Auburn cultivation site organized a walk-out in protest of the company’s unlawful practice of applying pesticides. The federal government was prepared to issue a complaint stating that the company unlawfully disciplined workers who stood together, and interfered with their right to join the UFCW by interrogating them, creating the impression of surveillance, and soliciting them to oppose the union. The NLRB also found merit to the charges that the company maintained several overly broad confidentiality policies that unlawfully prevented employees from discussing their wages and working conditions.

“Only by sticking together, we were able to find the strength to speak out about the gross violations that we saw at work,” said Ian Brodie, a former Wellness employee who is included in the charges. “By fighting for our union, we are protecting our customers and shaping the medical marijuana industry into a safe and well regulated industry that provides good jobs and needed medicine for our community. I am proud of what we workers have done to bring justice to Wellness Connection.”

Previously, Wellness Connection workers reported other regulatory and health and safety violations to the Department of Health and Human Services, resulting in $18,000 in penalties for more than 20 violations of state law. OSHA also fined Wellness Connection $14,000 for numerous health and safety violations. Workers were emboldened to blow the whistle on their employer’s inappropriate practices after joining together in an effort to organize a union.

Thousands of medical cannabis workers in six states and the District of Columbia are UFCW members. They work predominantly in dispensaries, coffee shops, bakeries, patient identification centers, hydroponics stores, and growing and training facilities. UFCW members have been key leaders in coalitions and advocacy groups that work for real change at all levels of policy and have been instrumental in working to advocate for the good jobs provided by the medical cannabis industry.

Member Spotlight: Mechelle Cunningham

In this week’s member spotlight, we’re highlighting the story of another longtime UFCW member, who like last week’s spotlight member, is also from West Virginia.

Local 23 member Mechelle Cunningham caught our attention when we saw how she spearheaded a collection drive at her workplace–Giant Eagle in Morgantown, West Virginia. After hearing about a friend who had donated some water and that trucks were bringing water to people in her state who were affected by the chemical spill in and around Charleston, WV, Mechelle looked at the 3 pallets of water on the store floor in front of her and told her manager she wanted to purchase them and have them removed from the store floor. Her manager, knowing the cost was around $560 dollars, said, “Today?” Mechelle’s response was automatic.

Local 23 members Robin Gable, Teresa Policicchio, Mechelle Cunningham, and Anna Sisler.

Local 23 members Robin Gable, Teresa Policicchio, Mechelle Cunningham, and Anna Sisler.

“I didn’t think about the price–I just knew that my fellow employees would gather together to purchase that water to send down there. I told her that one way or another we’d get the money, and we did!” Together, Mechelle, her fellow union members, and other members of the community were able to send 17 pallets of water to those in need.

For Mechelle, being a union member means “standing up for your rights, and helping one another”. When talking with Mechelle, its clear that the ‘helping one another’ part is big for her, as demonstrated by her role in the donation of the water pallets: “We all really help one another and donate for different causes and support each other, and especially with something that large for our community, you know, people not having water–that’s a main thing, you have to have that.”

Mechelle is coming up on her 40th year as a UFCW member and has experienced first-hand how being in a union means there’s always someone there to help–”to back you and support you”.  Mechelle finds that oftentimes, many people don’t know about the union, and until they sit down and talk about it, don’t fully understand what it is. “I just have such a strong belief in the union,” says Mechelle, which is why she helps spread the word at work about how people–often younger members who haven’t been through strikes for better working conditions like she has–can protect their rights. By sharing her own experiences as a union member, and how it has helped her, she finds that she is helping them understand, even when there isn’t something currently happening.

Active community members like Mechelle inspire us every day. Do you know a UFCW member whose story we could share? Tell us about them at http://www.ufcw.org/resources/members/share-your-story/

 

No Sugar Coating Health and Safety Concerns at Dylan’s Candy Bar

From the RWDSU:DylansHSphoto

Yesterday, workers at Dylan’s Candy Bar joined community allies and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) to speak out about the conditions at Dylan’s Candy Bar. Workers have recently called attention to health and safety concerns, and, in addition to OSHA claims, workers filed complaints with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, reporting concerns over food safety issues.

“On multiple occasions, I have seen moldy strawberries stored in the Café refrigerator that are used for customers’ consumption in the store’s chocolate fountain,” said David Oscos, Café Associate at Dylan’s Candy Bar.  “I’ve observed Company management instruct Associates to cut off the moldy parts of strawberries or to remove moldy strawberries from the package and use the remaining ones to serve to customers.”

Owned by Dylan Lauren, daughter of famous fashion designer Ralph Lauren, Dylan’s Candy Bar is the largest unique candy store in the world, with $25 million estimated in annual sales, and is widely considered a ‘required stop’ for celebrities visiting NYC, such as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Katie Holmes, Janet Jackson, and Madonna.

In addition to complaints about health and safety issues, some workers at Dylan’s Candy Bar had their hours cut and were reassigned to less desirable work assignments when speaking out for better working conditions, according to a complaint filed by the union with the National Labor Relations Board, which is investigating the charge.

“Unsanitary food being served, cutting workers hours and not paying these workers a decent wage are examples of how this company mistreats its customers and workers,” said Phil Andrews, director of Retail Organizing at RWDSU. “Specifically, the lack of actions to improve health concerns raised by the workers pose potential risks to workers and consumers, which is why we are here to speak out about these unfair conditions.”

“We feel as though managers’ attitude towards some of the sanitary issues mirrors their attitude towards us: they don’t about our voice and our concerns, just about the bottom line,” said Phil Arnone, Sales Associate at Dylan’s Candy Bar.

Workers started an online petition earlier this year and have held multiple rallies and protests at the store calling on Dylan Lauren to meet with her workers to address unfair working conditions.

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The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members in the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).  For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org.