A unionized medical cannabis dispensary worker in Portsmouth, R.I., was offered reinstatement with full back pay Dec. 29, more than six months after his employment was terminated at the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center.
Ben Telford, a keyholder at the retail facility, was fired June 23, roughly two months after employees at Greenleaf Portsmouth became the first cannabis dispensary workers in the state to unionize in a 21-1 vote to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local Union 328, which represents roughly 11,000 Rhode Island and Massachusetts workers across various industries.
Employed by the dispensary for more than a year, Telford told Cannabis Business Times that he had been a leading unionization advocate for himself and others as a member of Greenleaf’s union bargaining committee, a role he retained following his termination.
“I’ve been a very loud voice for myself and for others on the team that worked there,” Telford said in June. “But the reason I was given the day I was terminated … was that my services were no longer required. And when I asked for further explanation, I was told that there was none needed to be given at the time, so I gathered my belongings and left for the afternoon and said goodbye to everybody.”
Telford was informed of his termination by Greenleaf’s chief of staff and director of retail operations, but he said it was his understanding that the decision came from Greenleaf CEO Seth Bock. Cannabis Business Times reached out to Bock for comment in June but never received a response.
UFCW Local 328 filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Greenleaf for allegedly violating workers’ rights, including Telford’s termination, the elimination of employee discounts during a six-week period, the elimination of the Friday lunch program, and the transfer of bargaining unit work to a new classification, according to UFCW. Additional charges included interrogation, surveillance, and disparagement of employees for their union activity.
After months of investigation, NLRB officials issued complaints on each of the charges against Greenleaf, according to a UFCW press release. One day before a trial was set to take place, Greenleaf offered to settle on every complaint, according to UFCW.
“We are proud of the workers at Greenleaf for standing together to achieve this victory,” Sam Marvin, UFCW Local 328 director of organizing, said in the release. “It is critical that employers are held accountable when they break the law and violate workers’ rights. This settlement represents a significant achievement for Greenleaf workers in their pursuit for justice and fairness at their workplace, and we look forward to continuing to work together to build the futures they all have earned.”
According to UFCW, the agreed settlement includes:
- Back pay for employees during a six-week period the company did not extend their employee discount to eligible union voters.
- Back pay for employees affected by the company’s elimination of the Friday lunch program for the past 25 weeks.
- The immediate reinstatement of the Friday lunch program.
- The reinstatement offer to employee Ben Telford, with compensation of full back pay for wages, interest and additional compensation.
- The immediate restoration and protection of bargaining unit work for keyholders.
- A signed commitment by the company to not interfere with employees’ rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act; to not disparage, surveil, discipline or discharge workers for their union activity; to not create new positions to avoid collective-bargaining obligations; to not transfer work to managers or other employees because of their union activity; and a commitment to bargain in good faith with UFCW Local 328.
Greenleaf workers, who held a one-day strike on June 26, to protest Telford’s firing, collectively released the following statement last week in response to the agreement (via the UFCW press release):
“We are pleased with the results of the investigations from the National Labor Relations Board and the signed commitments we secured in this settlement agreement. We would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to the NLRB for their hard work during the investigation of numerous labor complaints that were filed against our employer.
“While we should not have had to experience these unfair labor practices to begin with, it was extremely reassuring to know that we as workers had a formal means of recourse when our employer committed these infractions. While forming a union can be a challenging and arduous process, we know that it is one of the few options we have as workers to create a more stable and predictable future.
“We encourage workers to continue to organize with each other both within individual companies and across the industry. We want to thank UFCW Local 328 for all of its continued support and the resources we’ve been given through this process. We look forward to continuing to build a healthier and secured future for all of us at Greenleaf by completing our first union contract in the near future.”