100 Joliet cannabis workers at Cresco Labs join union

Workers at the Cresco Labs cannabis cultivation center in Joliet have unionized.

The workers voted 58-32 on Tuesday to join Local 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

A UFCW statement called the vote “precedent setting,” saying “Cresco workers are sending a message that the cannabis industry lives up to the promises it made to the communities when it lobbied for their support.”

UFCW Local 881 President Steve Powell said in a statement the union “is proud of these workers and looks forward to standing with them to negotiate a fair and just contract that will improve their working conditions.”

The UFCW represents about 10,000 cannabis workers nationwide and is in the process of organizing employees at other cannabis facilities in Illinois, said Zach Koutsky, legislative and political director for Local 881.

The Cresco Lab workers contacted Local 881 in September after failing to resolve workplace equity issues “the traditional way,” Koutsky said. Other issues include wages and health care.

“The wages for such a profitable company are low,” Koutsky said. “They have health care provided by the company, but it’s very expensive.”

The UFCW unit will include 100 of 137 Cresco workers who are the first in Joliet to join a union, Koutsky said, noting contracted security staff at the plant also are in a union but employed by another company.

Cresco CEO Charlie Bachtell issued a written statement on the union vote.

“Throughout this process, we have respected, supported and protected the rights of our employees to make this important decision through an independent secret ballot election,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to provide all of our employees a fair package of employee wages, health and retirement benefits and an environment that is a great place to work.”

The Cresco facility in Joliet opened in late 2015. Cresco also has cultivation centers in Kankakee and Lincoln, and operates five dispensaries in Illinois with plans to open five more this year. It has 562 employees in Illinois.

The company operates in seven states with a total of 23 production facilities and 22 dispensaries. It employs 1,180 people companywide.

Three other unions are seeking to represent cannabis workers in Illinois.

The Service Employees International Union is organizing security staff, the Operating Engineers are organizing maintenance employees and the Teamsters are organizing transportation workers.