March and Ash store
Interior of the March and Ash store in City Heights. Courtesy of the company

Cannabis workers at three March and Ash locations voted this week to ratify a union contract, marking the first successful organizing effort for the new industry in San Diego and Imperial counties.

The contract with UFCW Local 135, which also represents grocery workers throughout the region, covers retail outlets in City Heights, Vista, and Imperial.

“This contract will create career jobs and promote an industry-setting standard that is needed to ensure that cannabis workers are accepted and valued,” said Todd Walters, president of the local.

Breton Peace, general counsel for March and Ash, said the the two parties “crafted something that worked for our company, its workers, and the communities we serve” and noted the contract included healthcare and subsidized childcare.

The local also represents cannabis workers at two other companies covered by preexisting contracts that were not negotiated locally.

A fourth location, in Mission Valley, has not joined the union.

Collective bargaining came to a conclusion Wednesday night after two years of organizing and negotiating among the UFCW Local 135 and the ownership group of March and Ash.

“This contract will create career jobs and promote an industry setting standard that is needed to ensure that cannabis workers are accepted and valued,” said Todd Walters, president of the UFCW Local 135. “This industry-leading contract will create a new model for March and Ash employees, and other workers in the industry, by providing training, educational opportunities, childcare and more.

“We are proud of the work put in and are honored to have delivered a contract worthy of these cannabis workers,” Walters continued.

Although the pandemic presented delays and hurdles, the parties late last year made the decision to continue to work in earnest through those hurdles to develop a framework that worked for the local industry and its employees.

Union officials said they appreciate the good faith negotiations and commitments made by March and Ash through the creation of this partnership and the Collective Bargaining Agreement created by the parties.

Peace, general counsel for March and Ash, added: “We took the time to understand what it is our employees need and want. Health care benefits, subsidized child-care in an industry with many young single or co-parent arrangements and worker participation in the upside so this can be a career.”

Walters said he believes the honest and cooperative approach between labor and industry enhances the value to all parties, and this contract “sets the gold standard in the unionized cannabis industry and will be used as a model in future negotiations with companies whose workers choose to go union.”

Peace said the union had operated in good faith in creating a new labor agreement and the company and its employees could move forward from the negotiating table together for responsible cannabis use.

“The March and Ash responsible adult-use model is rooted in respect for the community including the people who did not vote to legalize cannabis,” Peace said. “We’re well aware that we can only deliver on that promise through our employees.”

UFCW Local 135 — which represents around 13,000 workers and nearly 7,000 retirees in San Diego and Imperial Counties in various fields including grocery and retail, health, pharmacy and dental, meat and sugar processing, casino and cannabis — has three cannabis companies with a total of six locations under its jurisdiction.

Updated at 2:41 p.m. May 14, 2021

City News Service contributed to this report.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.