Friday, May 28, 2010

'Oaksterdam A Model American Business', Union Leaders Say

By David Downs
Fri, May 28, 2010 at 5:00 AM

The unprecedented unionization of Oaksterdam serves as a model for the entire country and a significant boon to the Tax Cannabis 2010 ballot initiative, which could get tens of thousands of more votes by appearing on a union slate this fall, according to labor and management involved.

A slate is a letter to a set of voters telling them who and what to vote for. Politicians covet their appearance on official slates of either Democratic or Republican parties, as well as special interest groups such as teachers and union workers. It's essentially free advertising, and Oaksterdam founder and Tax Cannabis 2010 creator Richard Lee said Tax Cannabis 2010 seeks a spot on the union slate this fall. Ron Lind, president of UFCW Local 5, who now represents Lee's roughly 100 employees said it's too early to specify how California's powerful, 32,000-strong union will endorse Tax Cannabis 2010, but they're discussing it.

The unionization this week of Oaksterdam and five affiliated businesses serves as a model for American unionization, Lind notes. Employees came to work one day, were asked if they wanted to join a union and when enough agreed, Oakland council member Rebecca Kaplan independently verified the vote. She mediated their request with management, who also agreed. It's a textbook “card check” unionization, the likes of which is highly contentious in Washington DC where business leaders fear a bill called the "Employee Free Choice Act" will promote the simple procedure, lead to more unions and erode profits. Oaksterdam's dual management and labor support for unionization is rare, Lind says.

“It's not your typical labor vs. management struggle,” Lind said. “The way it happens is usually companies fight. They don't want a union, they don't want card check, they go to the National Labor Relations Board, they threaten workers and fire people. None of that is going on here. These are progressive folks that say, 'Look, if our employees want to have a union, we'll recognize it'."

“We believe that every union organization campaign should be the way this was conducted in Oaksterdam.”

Card checks are under way at other local medical cannabis enterprises, making this week a watershed moment in marking the addition of potentially thousands more union jobs. The medical cannabis industry's embrace of unionization is bucking national trends, Lind said.

Unionization also puts cannabis squarely in the straight world, Lee said.

“The big thing right now is is it adds legitimacy to the industry. These are tax-paying jobs, but we're still at that point where some people think dispensary sales are illegal under state law.”

Rebecca Kaplan will host a press conference at Oaksterdam this morning announcing further developments on the topic. Committees are forming to negotiate a contract between Oaksterdam workers and management. Lind and Lee say medical cannabis industry workers already benefit from higher pay and perks than their peers in retail, but unionization will add dispute resolution benefits, scholarship opportunities, and of course, collective bargaining rights.

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