A budtender who was fired earlier this month for “lack of trust” and “poor work ethic,” as he helped organize a unionization effort, returned to work Nov. 26 at the Burnside Buds dispensary in Victoria, British Columbia.
Niko Kruzel’s firing came as he and other workers at Burnside Buds voted to join the BC Budtender Union, a cannabis-focused division of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1518, which represents more than 26,000 members working in the community health, hospitality, retail, grocery, industrial and professional sectors across British Columbia.
The decision to unionize came after months of dealing with issues regarding scheduling, inconsistent and low pay and lack of health benefits, according to a Local 1518 press release. Kruzel was hired in May 2021 and had never been written up prior to unionizing, according to the release.
Three days after the dispensary employees voted to unionize, the store owner fired Kruzel through text message, stating trust and work ethic issues, Kruzel said in the release.
“I was surprised and shocked to get that late-night text,” he said. “It felt like a knee-jerk reaction from the employer, and, in my opinion, it showed they didn’t know a lot about running a business.”
Kruzel is not the only instance of a dispensary worker getting fired during a unionization endeavor.
Ben Telford, a former keyholder at Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth, R.I., had his employment terminated June 23 because his “services were no longer required” after he was a driving voice for himself and 21 other workers at the medical cannabis retail facility to join the UFCW Local 328.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Greenleaf for Telford’s termination and is seeking to get a court order to get the company to put Telford back to work, Local 328 Director of Organizing Sam Marvin told Cannabis Business Times.
In Victoria, Kruzel helps sell products like Pure Sunfarms flower, Aurora pre-rolls, Redecan vapes and oils, Wana edibles and Solei topicals, among other popular brands and items. He was without a job for roughly three weeks before returning to work.
After his firing, the union filed a complaint with the British Columbia Labour Relations Board (LRB), stating that the employer unlawfully terminated Kruzel’s employment and subsequently removed snacks from the staff room in retaliation against the workers for unionizing, according to the Local 1518 release.
“This is all too common in the retail industry, and frankly, it’s childish,” Eric Nordal, an organizer with the BC Budtender Union, said in the release. “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 B.C., this type of behaviour is illegal, and we do have avenues to fight back.”
After the complaint was filed with LRB, the dispensary employer agreed to reinstate Kruzel, refill the staff’s snacks and reinstate a 20% employee discount that was taken away following the worker’s unionization effort, according to the release.
Kruzel returned to work on Friday.
“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,” he said. “I’m looking forward to future negotiations and to serving people, as I’ve always done.”