United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 Keystone State and Vireo Health International, Inc. (“Vireo”), announced Monday that workers at Vireo’s Pennsylvania subsidiary voted overwhelmingly to ratify a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and officially join the ranks of UFCW 1776KS. This is a first of its kind, groundbreaking agreement in Pennsylvania that covers employees of the wholly-owned subsidiary of Vireo, Pennsylvania Medical Solutions, which includes the Scranton-based, 89,000 square-foot manufacturing facility and employees yet to be hired at Vireo dispensaries planned for Scranton, Bethlehem, and Stroudsburg.

When asked for comment, Vireo COO Ari Hoffnung replied, “Vireo is deeply committed to its employees and is proud to be part of the UFCW family in Pennsylvania and beyond,” he said. “As part of the Pennsylvania licensure process, we signed a Labor Peace Agreement to pave the way for our employees to organize.”

While this is the first union contract in PA, Hoffnung said it is not the first for Vireo. 

“Our employees are also unionized in MN and NY. In Minnesota, we work with UFCW Local 1189,” he said. “In New York, we work with Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW and AFL-CIO Local 811. We look forward to partnering with UFCW in other state-based cannabis markets such as Maryland.”

Both Vireo and the Union express great excitement for the agreement. UFCW Local 1776KS President Wendell Young IV told Dispense Magazine. 

“The team at Vireo was very professional and I want to thank them, again, for working so hard with us on what is a strong contract for our members and their company, Young said. “This is a good company and we’re looking forward to a long partnership with them.”

The three-year agreement provides Vireo employees with one of the most generous pay and benefits packages in the industry in PA. Young detailed those benefits for Dispense Magazine. They include:

  • Higher wages: “Based on our experience talking with cannabis employees at non-union cannabis operations, and from what we know based on our International Union’s organizing experience in the industry nationally, the wage rates in this contract are superior to non-union cannabis companies.” 
  • Medical benefits: “Depending on the level of coverage, the employer is paying anywhere from 75% to 95% of the employee premium for a union-administered health plan.”
  • Paid time off: “Depending on seniority, anywhere from 2.5 weeks to over 6 weeks of PTO.  Also, paid bereavement leave, jury duty pay, and paid holidays.”
  • Employer-funded retirement plan: “A 401k generously funded by the employer, with optional additional contributions by employees.”
  • Comprehensive safety provisions for work conditions unique to cannabis cultivation: “Working in sometimes damp conditions with frequent bending, squatting, and repeated motions. Also, various machinery used for processing cannabis can be hazardous if safeguards are not in place.”
  • Anti-discrimination language: “Protection of employees from discrimination by their employer based on various protected classes, including race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, and more.”

Vireo’s Hoffnung said that this agreement is another example of the company’s commitment to being a “socially responsible” company. 

“Along with the rare opportunity to build an entirely new industry, comes unique responsibility.,” he said. “We believe it is incumbent upon us to lay an economic foundation that will provide employees with the wages and benefits their families deserve and invest in ways that help local economies prosper. That’s why we chose to locate our cultivation and processing facility in Scranton – so that we can help create much needed middle-class jobs in an area that has lost so many manufacturing jobs.” 

“Vireo also embraces gender and ethnic diversity at all levels of our business,” Hoffnung assured. Three of our seven board members are female, and women and minorities make up the majority of our workforce. Our leadership continues to advocate in support of greater diversity in the cannabis industry and the expungement of non-violent, cannabis-related arrest records.”

UFCW Local 1776KS’s Young said the union has been active in the industry for years. 

“UFCW’s International has been organizing in this industry for years,” he said. “In Pennsylvania, our Local partnered with stakeholders, lawmakers and the administration to ensure that workers had the ability to organize and that this industry would provide good jobs with strong benefits in our Commonwealth.”

When asked why they focus on the cannabis industry, Young said, “This is an exciting and growing industry. In Pennsylvania, we have been out front and we’re very pleased to be organizing in these new worksites. This is a landmark agreement. As this industry continues to grow and become more legitimatized, our goal is to make sure that workers share in the wealth being generated by medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.  This contract achieves that goal and more, providing cannabis workers family-sustaining jobs and dignity at work.”

Vireo’s Pennsylvania General Manager Noelle Bataille told Dispense Magazine that while the agreement will help attract better job applicants, finding a high-quality workforce has not been a problem. 

“We have been very impressed with the caliber of employees in Scranton and other areas throughout the state,” she said. “We have four open positions currently in Pennsylvania, but we expect that number to increase over the coming months, especially as our dispensaries open. There is amazing talent in Pennsylvania – from agricultural to scientific to retail.”

Hoffnung emphasized Vireo’s commitment to finding and keeping the best employees possible. 

“The happiness, health, and safety of our employees and our patients are paramount and inherently connected, he noted. “Absolutely, employees who feel valued and well-compensated help us create products that are safe, consistent, and of the highest quality. We protect and care for our employees, who in turn protect and care for our patients both through compassionate care and service and high-quality products.”

UFCW Local 1776KS’s Young said while Vireo is the first cannabis company in PA to unionize, it will likely not be the last.

 “We represent 35,000 workers in retail, healthcare, food processing, and light industry, just to name a few sectors so we are very adept at bringing in new sectors,” he continued. “We have developed an approach or a blueprint that has worked pretty well so we’re going to keep at it.”

Young encouraged any employees in the industry to reach out.

 “Workers have a right to organize and all they need to do is pick up the phone and contact us. It’s important to remember that while our job is to represent our members, we work very closely with employers.”

About UFCW Local 1776KS 

According to the press release: “UFCW Local 1776KS represents 35,000 members in a variety of industries across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York. The Local’s Cannabis Division continues to reach out to workers and companies across Pennsylvania.” For more information about UFCW Local 1776KS,  visit www.ufcw1776.org.

About Vireo Health International, Inc.

Vireo Health International, Inc.’s physician-led team of nearly 400 employees provides “best-in-class cannabis products and customer experience” according to the release. “Vireo cultivates cannabis in environmentally-friendly greenhouses, manufactures pharmaceutical-grade cannabis extracts, and sells its products at both company-owned and third-party dispensaries. The Company currently is licensed in eleven markets including Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island.”  For more information about the Company, please visit www.vireohealth.com.