Pot Industry Versus its Workers


Image by NickyPe from Pixabay

It appears that our local cannabis industry is all grown up and ready to fight the purported evils of government regulation, taxation, and unionization — just like the big kids at Amazon and Starbucks.  And while the regulation element is weak in a prospective labor-backed effort to tax the pot industry and to hire the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) to train and educate pot workers, taxation and unionization are front and center.

A new political action committee, People for Legal Cannabis, is gearing up to fight any effort by outsiders such as the UFCW to empower their workers.  This is nothing new.  Historically, the American business community has rarely supported government regulation designed to help workers or benefit communities.  From child-labor laws to racial integration to the empowering of a labor movement that helped “build the middle class,” the business community almost always commits strongly to stop such efforts.

They often work themselves up to a religious fervor, worshipping the god of the “ free market” and the apostles of Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, and Milton Friedman.  Their recent savior was Ronald Reagan (ironically a labor leader early in his acting career).  

Labor’s attempt to “back door” its way into representing non-union workers, as alleged for training pot workers, is nothing new either.  The state construction trades’ apprentice programs remain dominated by organized labor.   Only recently have state-sponsored apprentice programs been established and administered outside of labor union oversight, and such programs are few and far between.

What has changed recently over time is the degradation of the American middle class.  By and large only unionized blue collar jobs in retail provide a measure of middle-class economic prosperity.  Work at the QFC or Safeway (under a UFCW contract) and you can hope to send your kids to college and take a nice vacation or two.  Work at Walmart, Target, Rite Aid — or a cannabis shop — not so much.  Sure wage and benefit packages at Amazon and Starbucks are increasing (as are the incessant ads touting such benefits) and boutique retailers like Whole Foods can come close to union scale. All this is directly related to labor organizing threats.

Labor is working any angle they can to help workers, including these indirect, broadly targeted efforts. Meanwhile, the historic effort to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 had no practical effect on union membership levels. This happened, despite the fact that some within labor questioned why labor would put so much effort into helping non-union workers who would likely never become dues-paying members. 

The answer was always the same for progressive labor leaders — the greater good for working people is always the goal. Does labor need to “finance the movement”?  Of course. And just like the environmental movement, the money for such indirect support is only a means to the end.

David Freiboth
David Freiboth
Writer and civic leader David Freiboth headed the King County Labor Council and oversaw labor relations at the Port of Seattle


  1. Assertion: for “progressive labor leaders — the greater good for working people is always the goal.” While that statement may have been a widely-accepted bromide a generation ago, these days progressives appear to be more distracted by many other ideological aims.

    Decriminalizing pot possession and use serves a practicality but the drug itself has as many/more minuses than pluses. Article at link speaks to me, turning our public spaces into cannabis emporiums diminishes us all.


  2. The labor movement has a rich history of being “… distracted by many other ideological aims.” Women’s suffrage, the afore mentioned racial desegregation and, more recently women/LGBTQ rights have all enjoyed support from progressive labor leaders. The core commitment remains the same … economic justice for workers. Pro tip … gain some historical perspective before before making sweeping assumptions about the present.

    • “Pro tip … gain some historical perspective before before making sweeping assumptions about the present.”
      How pompous of you !
      No doubt the past is full Unions benefitting the working class, but to insinuate that business isn’t able to be good stewards of their workforce is BUNK


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