Columns » Hightower

Oakland goes to pot — and that's not bad




In California, a surprising new union movement is growing like a weed, having taken root in a burgeoning economic sector that has enormous potential: marijuana.

The Golden State was one of the first to legalize the use of medical marijuana, and a network of licensed growers, dispensaries and other related businesses has since flourished.

It turns out that pot is a labor-intensive product, and the producers, distributors and retailers of weed have become something of a hotbed for local job growth. These workers, as in any other industry, need a unified voice to achieve a living wage, decent benefits, training, job security, upward mobility and other elements of a shared prosperity that create a middle class. In a word, unions.

In Oakland, the first step toward a unionized workforce for medical marijuana businesses was taken this May when about a hundred retail employees voted to join Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial Workers. With a depressingly high unemployment rate, Oakland officials cheered this introduction of good paychecks, which will allow families to spread their increased incomes through the local economy.

Then, in September, Local 70 of the Teamsters Union added to Oakland's marijuana momentum by signing up about 40 gardeners, trimmers and other skilled workers employed by a local business that contracts to grow pot for medical marijuana patients in the area.

The Teamsters negotiated a two-year contract that provides a $7 per hour pay hike, health coverage, paid vacation and pension — the kind of jobs that can sustain a community.

Ironically, federal law still outlaws marijuana, but common-sense state and local laws are showing that, by literally going to pot, such legalized grassroots enterprises can give people and communities a new high.

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