Agreement Raises Wages, Expands Leave, Establishes Due Process
UFCW Local 400 members working at the Zen Leaf cannabis dispensary in Germantown, MD voted unanimously to rafity their first collective bargaining agreement. The contract provides for significant wage increases over its three-year term, expanded bereavement leave, holiday pay, formal grievance procedures, and other improvements.
The workers unionized in August 2022 and ratified the agreement on August 11 of this year. Owned by Verano Holdings, a national cannabis company based in Chicago, Zen Leaf was originally a medical marijuana dispensary. Since July 1, 2023, when Maryland adult-use cannabis legalization took effect, the company also sells recreational cannabis.
“I want to congratulate our members at Zen Leaf for organizing and winning a strong first contract,” said Local 400 President Mark P. Federici. “They stood strong in solidarity, improved their living standards, and gained a powerful voice in the workplace. And they set a model that the rest of the Maryland cannabis industry should follow.”
“Most of us have prior retail experience, but I don’t think any of us have ever seen a retail industry like the cannabis industry,” said Chris Fabritz, who has worked at Zen Leaf since 2019 and was a lead organizer and member of the bargaining committee. “When you see a store making $30,000 or $35,000 a week and the employees are making pennies on the dollar and you ask about raises and the company goes, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to talk about those yet,’ it leads you to question what’s going on here.
“People finally got fed up,” he said. “It came to a point where everyone collectively was like, ‘There’s got to be something we can do.’ And I said, ‘Look, there’s nothing wrong with attempting to start a union. If you guys are serious, I will do the footwork.’ And they were unanimous that we should move forward. So I did the research and that led me to [UFCW Local 400 organizer] Johnie Perry, who then led us to our very first vote. And here we are today.”
Chris was pleasantly surprised by the bargaining process. “I was expecting cuss words and yelling and even fists. But everyone was very respectful, polite and understanding. We were having genuine conversations and we were listened to. I never felt attacked or anything like that. Only once did I have a sense that management was suggesting that if we don’t agree to whatever they want, other people will take the money the company’s offering, and that kind of hurt. But in the end, we came to a deal. And after the fact, they came back and said, hey, ‘We’d like to raise wages a little bit more,’ which we were all totally okay with.”
The contract was ratified unanimously. Chris cited the 3% annual wage increases, expanded bereavement leave, paid holidays and employee discounts on store products as important factors. “I honestly believe, as our very first union contract, we got the best deal possible right now,” he said. “Plus, one of the most important things is that now, if you feel that you’re being treated wrongly, you can have someone there represent you and be there for you. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly.”
Chris hopes the success of Zen Leaf members spreads throughout the industry. “If you’re a cannabis worker in a dispensary – and you’re not sure what to do, or how to help you or your team, or you feel stuck – organize,” he said. “It’s never too late. This is what’s best for business. This is what’s best for you. It’s what’s best for your dispensary and what’s best for your team. Union approval ratings are through the roof right now and there’s a reason for that. So never be afraid to stand up and say something. I tell people all the time that I’ll rattle a cage or two if I have to. I rattled this cage and look at us now—we have ourselves a strong union here at Zen Leaf.”