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Springfield

Springfield Marijuana Dispensary Workers Look To Unionize

Briana Rodriguez, who works at Ascend Springfield, talks about the effort to unionize.
UFCW Local 881's Facebook page
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Employees at a cannabis dispensary in Springfield are voting on whether to unionize.

Workers at Ascend Springfield’s downtown location said Wednesday that lax COVID-19 precautions and a lack of guaranteed sick time during the pandemic pushed them towards organizing.

Andrew Feeney, who works at Ascend Springfield, said he enjoyed the job at first.

“Since COVID has come around, it has steadily degraded. And we're just fighting to get that back and get it to the place we know it can be,” Feeney told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.

A spokesperson for Ascend declined to comment.

The move is part of a larger movement to unionize workers in the booming new industry in Illinois. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881, which hosted the news conference and is based in Des Plaines, represents more than 200 employees at a cultivation center in Joliet and a dispensary in Chicago, both owned by Cresco Labs. Employees at another dispensary in Chicago are also seeking to unionize.

The union effort in Springfield already passed an initial hurdle in January, getting enough signatures to authorize a vote. Only the 41 employees at the downtown Ascend location are participating, according to union organizers.

The company owns three dispensaries in Illinois — two in the capital city and one in Collinsville — with plans to open a fourth in Fairview Heights. It also runs storefronts in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Briana Rodriguez, an Ascend Springfield employee, said she’s fighting for a union to ensure better pay and benefits like sick days. And she said if the sales at the dispensary are any indication, the company can afford it.

“There shouldn't be a question about money,” Rodriguez said. “That's a question about morality and what your priorities are. And if we’re the ones bringing in these sales, we should be a priority.”

Sales of both medical and adult-use cannabis in Illinois topped $1 billion last year. Dispensaries reported $121 million in sales in January.

A majority of Ascend Springfield’s employees who vote would have to support the union in order to be represented by UFCW Local 881. The workers have until April 20 to vote by mail.

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