Employees at Tilray’s Nanaimo facility could be on the road to becoming unionized.
United Food and Commercial Workers Union wants to become the first union in Canada to organize workers in the cannabis industry and Nanaimo could be where the union gets a foothold.
Shane Dawson, UFCW’s director of organizing, said he met with Tilray employees in mid September who were concerned about their job security and the union began signing members.
A vote, overseen by the B.C. Labour Relations Board, was taken Oct. 16, but the results of the vote and a decision about which employees in the company are eligible to vote is still under review by the B.C. LRB.
Dawson said the union is focusing strictly on organizing Tilray Nanaimo employees who work in cultivation, possibly 120, however, on the day the vote was taken, 200 or more employees from various departments turned out to vote.
“On this day of the vote, Lord and behold, we had 62 people show up that had no business being there,” Dawson said. “That’s the problem. We were expecting a vote of 120 to 130, on the outside, and we ended up with over 200.”
Dawson is suggesting Tilray workers from departments other than those in cultivation may have skewed the vote results and that employees in different departments, such as payroll, research or customer service should be organized under different collective agreements.
“To me the decision is really simple,” he said. “They’ve got 35 people that work at the call centre. They took those 35 people and shipped them over to vote. They trucked them over. The board should’ve never allowed it.”
Tilray said the number of employees at its Harewood call centre is 33 and that the company believes all of its 259 Nanaimo employees should be included in the vote.
“Tilray has been successful to date because of its ability to adapt and change to meet the demands of the burgeoning cannabis industry,” said a Tilray spokesperson, in an e-mail. “While we believe a direct two-way relationship between the company and our employees is best for the Tilray team, we respect it is the employees’ right to choose if they want to have a union representing them.”
The statement went on to say the company had communicated this to all of its Nanaimo employees and left it to each of its employee to decide what is in their best interest.
“The union has decided it only wants to represent certain select groups of employees at our Nanaimo facility, whereas Tilray believes all of its Nanaimo facility employees should have the right to decide if they want to be represented,” the spokesperson said. “The employees who voted are all from the same facility, albeit one group of employees has been temporarily moved out to a nearby location while part of the Nanaimo facility is under construction due to expansion. These employees will return to their workspaces in the Nanaimo facility once construction is completed.”
Dawson argues it’s not about what facility the employees work in, but what their jobs actually are that is at issue and many of the employees Tilray is trying to include in the vote, such as research scientists, office staff, administrators and others are not working in cultivation.
“I’m trying to unionize the people who grow and handle the material. Processing and packaging … The scientist that invented the gene doesn’t have much to do with the guy clipping off the buds,” He said.
Dawson said if the outcome of the review comes back not in favour of the union he won’t give up because he said it’s important to unionize workers in an industry he expects to become as large as the alcohol business across Canada.
“This is the reason why this is so important to the UFCW. We are the union that’s coming out and trying to represent agricultural workers in Ontario … We have spent millions of dollars trying to organize the agricultural workers, so to us, this is our industry and [Nanaimo] is the first place in Canada where we actually had a vote,” he said.