Commentary: Labor union calls for worker protections in final … – Maryland Matters

By Ademola Oyefeso
The writer is director of the Legislative and Political Action Department at United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the largest private sector union in the United States.
Last week, while hundreds of workers gathered outside the Maryland State House, Maryland legislators quietly completed a legislative betrayal that abandons Maryland workers in favor of corporate CEOs.  The Senate Finance Committee voted 5-3 against workers’ interests by eliminating labor peace agreements as a condition of licensure in the emerging cannabis industry in Maryland.
A labor peace agreement is an agreement between an employer and a labor organization wherein the labor organization agrees to refrain from certain direct actions, like strikes or other workplace disruptions. In exchange, the employer agrees not to interfere with the employee’s right to decide whether to organize a union. These agreements are crucial tools in the fight to protect employees from anti-union and outright hostile employers.
Labor peace as a condition of licensure in the cannabis industry is the law of the land across several states that have legalized adult-use cannabis, including Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and California.
Here in Maryland, labor peace agreements are not new. When the casino industry in the state was new, the legislature wisely included provisions that required labor peace agreements as a condition of licensure. As a result, Maryland gaming employees have enjoyed increased wages and better working conditions. According to the Maryland legislature, mostly Black and Brown cannabis workers are not worthy of the same benefits.
I grew up a young Black man in Brooklyn, New York, in the 80s and 90s during the height of the crack epidemic. I had a front row seat to the abuses and excesses of the disastrous War on Drugs. I saw friends and neighbors locked up for too long over trivial drug violations. I saw the ways in which the punitive policing in my neighborhood disrupted families and destroyed lives. In any modern cannabis industry, it is imperative that the benefits go to the same Black and Brown communities that have been most impacted by the targeted enforcement of cannabis prohibition that undeniably ruined live.
The actions of Maryland legislators are an egregious display of hypocrisy. No legislator embodies this nearsightedness more than Delegate C.T. Wilson, chair of the House Economic Matters Committee and sponsor of the House cannabis omnibus bill.
In defending the “equity” provisions in the bill on the House floor, Delegate Wilson said, “We want people who actually suffered from the War on Drugs to have the opportunity to finally benefit, to have some kind of generational wealth that they can pass on to their children. Just because they came from poverty doesn’t mean they have to stay there.”
Yet, this fine point of rhetoric fails to be reflected in the text of the bill. According to Delegate Wilson, it seems the only people who deserve to emerge from poverty are those who already have access to the capital necessary to start a business, not the workers who will keep those businesses operating. He continued, “At the end of the day [. . .] if we believe in upwardly small businesses, minorities, individuals who have suffered for generations from the war on drugs, then we have to make money available, otherwise they’re just going to sit back and watch people from out of state, people who have millions of dollars already, come in and make money off my people [. . .] That is unacceptable.”
Again, Delegate Wilson’s rhetoric is in the right place, but I wonder how effective his bill will be in creating Black wealth because it currently only supports a relatively small number of prospective owners, but simultaneously leaves the door open for those prospective owners to exploit thousands of cannabis workers through poverty wages and poor working conditions.
Delegate Wilson is perhaps the most visible example of the legislative failure that this cannabis omnibus has become, but he is by no means solely the problem. That is why on behalf of the 1.3 million members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), including thousands of cannabis workers across the country, I am calling on Governor Wes Moore to step in where the legislature has failed to prioritize worker protections in the cannabis industry. In a state full of Black and Brown workers — and with a long history of lives and communities broken by the ill-conceived war on drugs — Maryland cannot afford to leave workers in the cannabis industry behind.
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