Rigo Valdez Jr., director of organizing at Local 770, which represents grocery and pharmacy workers, says the union saw an opportunity. “If your job is dispensing medical cannabis, your job is not that different from a pharmacy tech,” he says.
From the beginning, the alliance of the cannabis industry and organized labor has reflected the parties’ complementary interests: Cannabis gained legitimacy and unions could start a tradition of organizing workers in a quickly growing industry. Valdez compares it to the repeal of Prohibition, which led to an alcohol industry that he says is still highly unionized.
In 2012, employees of Cornerstone Collective joined the union. “We saw it as a very positive relationship and still do,” Carlos de la Torre, president of Cornerstone, says. “They’ve been in our industry’s corner since then.”
At the time, Torre says, L.A. City Council and residents were “fed up with the proliferation of the industry.” Pot shops were sprouting up everywhere. The union collaborated with cannabis collectives on the measure that became Proposition D, which city voters approved in May 2013. Proposition D limited the number of dispensaries in the city to 135 — dispensaries that had been approved by a 2007 ordinance — and raised taxes for sellers.