Have A Hearts Belltown Location.
Have A Heart's Belltown Location. Courtesy of Have A Heart

More than 100 workers at the Have A Heart chain of retail pot shops are now officially members of a union, an agreement that appears to be the first unionization of a pot company in Washington state, and one of the largest unionization expansions for any pot company in the country.

The workers will now receive healthcare benefits, maternal and paternal paid time off, retirement benefits, and new rights surrounding discipline and firings, according to Todd Crosby, president of UFCW 21, the union that Have A Heart’s employees joined Friday.

Crosby said this was the first successful collective bargaining agreement his union has been able to sign in Washington state.

“There’s been a number of false starts, where people tried to organize and got to the bargaining table but it has always fallen apart,” Crosby said. “This is the first time that it’s gone all the way to a stable, solid, collective bargaining agreement.”

Ryan Kunkel, one of Have A Heart owners, said he has been trying to expand benefits for his workers for years, but the federal government’s ban on legal pot companies taking deductions from their federal tax returns has made that impossible. Joining a large union was the most effective way to expand those benefits, according to Kunkel.

“We’ve been trying to figure out how to get these guys healthcare, pensions and benefits. Mathematically we couldn’t figure it out, there was no way to do it internally, not right now,” Kunkel said. “So that was the main driver for teaming up with them. Beyond all of the practical organized labor benefits, you have access to healthcare, pensions, and normal things that cannabis companies don’t offer.”

UFCW bills itself as the largest private sector union in the state with over 40,000 members.

Have A Heart currently operates five retail stores in Washington. Kunkel said the chain is rapidly expanding into other states, where this union contract will protect future employees.

“Me signing a CBA [collective bargaining agreement] for the union was not just for Washington,” Kunkel said. “We are slated to open 18 stores across six states so I wanted to have this nailed down before we went through that 1,000-person hiring spree.”

Crosby said the cannabis industry is in particular need of union representation because it is an entirely new industry and because of particular safety concerns around selling legal pot.

“Our contract has a beefed up labor management committee strictly for safety concerns, given that this product used to be illegal and given there’s a fair amount of cash changing hands,” Crosby said. “Safety is a big concern as this industry grows and matures.”

Seattle City Councilmember Theresa Mosqueda said Have A Heart’s unionization shows how business owners can benefit from proactively helping their employees unionize.

“This is a great example of where employers can see how it helps their bottom line and do the right thing by making sure workers have a voice in the workplace,” Mosqueda said. “It doesn’t always have to be controversial and in fact, it’s a better outcome when it’s not.”

Mosqueda, who wasn’t involved in the negotiations but showed her support at an agreement signing ceremony Friday, said unionizing cannabis workers is part of a larger effort to organize workers in entirely new industries. Mosqueda has worked on the City Council to help pass a new set of worker’s rights for domestic workers and a law that would allow ride share drivers to unionize, although that law is currently being challenged in federal court.

“I think it’s really important to create space for workers in emerging industries and in non-traditional work sectors to have a collective voice,” Mosqueda said. “In new industries that are cropping up we need to think creatively about how we allow workers to express their voice and create unions in areas where they may have never seen unions before.”