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Kratom workers across eastern Missouri vote to unionize

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Kratom workers across eastern Missouri vote to unionize

Jun 08, 2024 | 6:55 am ET
By Rebecca Rivas
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Kratom workers across eastern Missouri vote to unionize
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CBD Kratom employees in St. Louis voted in favor to unionize in the election held the first week of June. (Rebecca Rivas/Missouri Independent).

CBD Kratom employees have become the first Missouri workers in the industry to unionize, following a Friday election.

The election spanned across 17 stores in eastern Missouri and Illinois operated by the St. Louis-based CBD Kratom, which sells largely kratom and hemp-derived THC products. Employees voted 23 to 6 to unionize, with 75% of the eligible employees participating.

“I’m so excited and so proud of everyone,” said Taylor Moore, sales associate. “I’m encouraged to know that our voices as workers are and will be heard.”

Sales associate Nina Sykes said, “This opens the doors for CBD Kratom employees to be more successful in their role.”

The employees join more than 15,000 cannabis industry workers nationwide as members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Of the 17 locations that voted to organize, 14 are located in St. Louis and will be represented by UFCW Local 655. The remaining 3 in Illinois will be represented by UFCW Local 881.

The win was expected because the company signed a “neutrality agreement” with the union in April.

Union drive at St. Louis cannabis company could have major impact on national labor law

Following the vote, Chief Operating Officer Jason Brandi issued this statement: “CBD Kratom cares about its workers and respects their legal rights to organize a union in their workplace. We look forward to working with the UFCW to negotiate a union contract that meets the needs of our employees and our business.”

When the employees from two stores first filed the petition in December, CBD Kratom leaders responded by essentially saying that the process “doesn’t have to be so contentious, we can work together,” said Garrett Farley, an organizer for Union Local 655.

The agreement states the company will remain neutral as best it can, he said. It was even the company leaders’ idea to hold the election for 17 stores instead of just two. 

“So, that’s how it’s been,” Farley said. “None of my workers have been harassed. They haven’t been fired. They haven’t been saying things like, ‘Oh, the union is the worst thing.’ It’s been really nice.”

It’s been a stark difference from other companies, he said. In December,  Local 655 held a massive campaign to unionize cannabis workers across eastern Missouri, which is the area the local represents. A dozen organizers visited every one of the approximate 100 marijuana dispensaries — twice. 

A unionization attempt by “post-harvest workers” at BeLeaf Medical’s Sinse cultivation facility in St. Louis has been blocked by their employer’s continuous legal challenges this year.  In April, BeLeaf filed an appeal, asking the five-member National Labor Relations Board. If the company wins the case, it could have national ramifications on labor law.

CBD Kratom sales associate Ariel Nielson hasn’t seen any harassment related to the election at her location in St. Louis, but she’s heard of some tension at a few other stores. It’s more related to the personalities of some supervisors, she said, and not a united pushback from company leaders. 

For her, she hopes unionizing will improve everyday working conditions. The stores lack security, she said, and she can’t afford the health insurance. 

“They just told us, ‘Guys, we’re offering you pet insurance now,’ Nielson said. “Okay? But like, I can’t afford my insurance.”

Alex Taykowski-Schmitt, a sales associate, said she and her colleagues are treated like they’re “disposable,” and that’s why she wanted to unionize. Since the election was announced, she’s noticed that she’s been given a little more respect at work. 

She said her supervisors’ seem to understand employees are organizing, “whereas beforehand, the respect for me as a person was kind of like the bare minimum.”