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San Jose union begins organizing pot workers (Read More…)

Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010

A major California labor union is organizing medical cannabis workers in Oakland, a move that analysts say will help efforts to legalize marijuana and open the door for the union to organize thousands more workers if state voters pass a measure in November to allow recreational marijuana use by adults.

The 26,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 in San Jose is believed to be the first union in the country to organize workers in a marijuana-related business. It is considering new job classifications including “bud tender” - a sommelier of sorts who helps medical marijuana users choose the right strain for their ailment.

“Union bud tender,” said Carl Anderson, executive director of AMCD, an Oakland nonprofit medical cannabis dispensary that is going through the city’s permitting process. The dispensary has 15 freshly minted union employees as it readies for an expected opening in December. “With full union health benefits and a pension,” Anderson said.
With roughly 100 cannabis industry workers in Oakland now in the process of unionizing, the move is mutually beneficial for labor and marijuana advocates.
The union, whose membership is dominated by commercial grocery store workers, retail clerks and some agricultural workers, gets to establish a toehold in a growing new pool of cannabis workers.
While its membership has been stable compared with those representing other sectors of the economy, the local’s rolls fell 5 percent last year as a result of layoffs and reduced hours.
Many new jobs foreseen

If California voters in November approve the Control and Tax Cannabis initiative, which would legalize marijuana possession and use of small amounts of marijuana for those over 21 and tax it, there could be thousands of new workers ripe for unionizing, said Dan Rush, a Local 5 organizer.

In addition to the retail clerks at the dispensaries, union organizers anticipate thousands of new cannabis-processing jobs, agricultural work for growers and security positions at dispensaries.
“These will be good union jobs with middle-class incomes,” said Ron Lind, the president of Local 5 and a vice president of the 1.3 million-member international union.

The union has not officially endorsed November’s legalization measure. Those recommendations could come in July. But Lind said the union’s national leadership is “supportive” of the local’s new outreach and it reflects the interests of members.

Removing a stigma
Getting unions involved may help destigmatize the legalization issue for union members who don’t already support it.

A Public Policy Institute of California survey released last week found that 49 percent of likely voters said they think marijuana should be legalized, while 48 percent felt it shouldn’t. The poll didn’t ask voters whether they thought pot should be regulated and taxed. Other polls show double-digit support for the legalization initiative in November.

Easing opposition

Seeing a union step into the discussion could melt some opposition.

“It does help further legitimize the notion of legalizing and taxing cannabis,” said Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, which conducts research and education on labor issues.

“Local 5 is a very large and highly respected union. This reflects a change about attitudes about cannabis in this state - and the recognition of the economic realities that California is facing,” Jacobs said.
While some industries may bristle at unionization, cannabis advocates embraced it.

“This is a major step - some are saying it’s a game-changer,” said Jeff Jones, a pioneer in the medical cannabis movement who is executive director for the Patient ID Center in Oakland, which provides support to medical cannabis users. Fifteen workers there are now unionized.

“This is helping to take a movement that had been operating underground and bringing it into the light,” said Jones, who is also one of the lead proponents of the November legaliza

Posted by Admin on 05/28 at 08:44 AM

SEIU Chief Henry Vows $4 Million to Organize Bank, Grocery Jobs (Read More…)

May 08, 2010
By Holly Rosenkrantz

Mary Kay Henry, elected today as president of the Service Employees International Union, pledged to spend $4 million organizing employees in businesses such as banks and supermarkets.

“Working people are facing hardships that we haven’t seen in generations,” Henry said on a conference call with reporters after the executive board picked her to replace Andy Stern.
Henry said she has “a fire in her belly” for fighting management interference in labor organizing efforts. Henry said she will fight such efforts by “creating complaints” with the National Labor Relations Board.

Henry, 52, takes over the 2.2-million-member union from Stern, who cultivated close ties to President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress during 14 years as president. Henry said she met Obama two years ago at a Democratic presidential candidates’ forum and is seeking to arrange a meeting with White House officials “but has no idea when that will occur.”

The $4 million fund will be used to organize industries that have traditionally not had employee representation, Henry said. She cited banks, grocery stores, biotechnology companies and independent contractors as prospects, without mentioning specific firms. The union said it spends about $250 million annually to help local officials on organizing.

Private-sector union membership in the U.S. fell to a record low of 7.2 percent of the workforce last year, while Stern helped the SEIU to become the nation’s biggest labor union.

The Washington-based union also will spend $4 million to elect union-friendly candidates in state governor’s offices and legislatures in November, Henry said.
California Nurses

Henry was a union organizer among California nurses before taking over the SEIU. A leader of the union’s health-care division, she pledged to heal rifts that grew as Stern focused on gaining access to politicians including Obama.

Stern, 59, visited the White House 22 times in 2009 during the first six months of Obama’s presidency, making him the most frequent outside visitor.

The new union president today committed to “restoring our relationship with the American labor movement” after Stern led seven unions out of the AFL-CIO in 2005 and created the rival federation Change
to Win. Henry said SEIU remains committed to Change to Win, and also wants to be a “full partner” in the U.S. labor movement.

Henry was an executive vice president of SEIU based in Washington. She grew up in the Detroit suburbs and has been an SEIU organizer since 1979. A founder of the union’s gay-and- lesbian caucus, she led organizing drives for health-care workers at Tenet Healthcare Corp. and Beverly Enterprises Inc.

Burger’s Withdrawal
Henry cinched the SEIU presidential race more than a week ago when Stern’s chosen successor, Anna Burger, withdrew her candidacy. Several union leaders endorsed Henry after she promised to heal rifts in the union.

The SEIU spent $85 million to help elect Democrats to the White House and Congress in 2008. Henry pledged to maintain the union’s political clout in campaigns for the November elections even as she placed increased emphasis on grassroots organizing.

Posted by Admin on 05/10 at 05:40 PM