A bill legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana in Connecticut that will likely be rushed through the General Assembly in the next two days will include union-friendly language meant to encourage the unionization of retail cannabis workers and union labor on construction of retail cannabis facilities.
The bill, which is hundreds of pages long, requires marijuana retailers to enter into a labor peace agreement as a condition of obtaining a license and requires a project labor agreement for any cannabis construction or renovation totaling $5 million or more.
Labor peace agreements essentially ensure that the business owner will remain neutral during any attempts by a union to represent the employees of the business, and the labor union agrees not to picket, boycott or force work stoppages at the business.
Project labor agreements are collective bargaining agreements entered into for completion of a construction project and essentially requires any contractor to use union labor and abide by union work rules.
Cannabis retailers could be fined up to $10,000 per day for each violation of the PLA requirement, according to the bill.
Project labor agreements are common in Connecticut for public projects and have most recently been required for the State Pier project in New London and the rehabilitation project on the north-bound lane of the Gold Star Bridge, but the marijuana legalization bill would require PLAs on private business projects.
Chris Fryxell, President of the Associated Building and Contractors of Connecticut, an organization of non-union construction businesses that comprise roughly 87 percent of the construction workforce in Connecticut, said the government shouldn’t be forcing private business to use union labor.
“It’s bad enough that government is steering state construction dollars to campaign donors, but the latest efforts to force private enterprise to pay big labor for construction is truly beyond the pale,” Fryxell said. “It isn’t government’s place to dictate how the private sector decides to approach their bidding process or to artificially and arbitrarily drive up costs for individuals looking to invest in a business.”
Under state statute, a PLA can only be required for a public project when it is determined to be in the public’s best interest based on efficiency, cost and economic benefits; availability of a skilled workforce; prevention of construction delays; safety and quality of the project; advancement of minority and women-owned businesses and employment opportunities for the community.
The language relating to minority and women-owned businesses and employment opportunities for the community in which the construction will take place is likely taking precedent in a marijuana legalization bill that has been largely focused on equity for communities that have been affected by past marijuana laws.
However, the statute regarding project labor agreements is reserved for public works projects only and makes no mention of imposing PLAs on private businesses that are not receiving state money.
Labor peace agreements for the cannabis industry have been required in states like California, Illinois and New York, but was stripped from legislation in Michigan. Although it does not require cannabis workers to join a union, it does require the employer give up some of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has been the largest driving force in unionizing cannabis workers.
The United Food and Commercial Workers have attempted to unionize cannabis workers in Massachusetts with some locations voting to unionize and others voting against.
With the legislative session set to end this week and the legislature still having to vote on a budget agreement, the marijuana legalization bill faces a time crunch.
However, Fryxell says his members are encouraging lawmakers to strip the project labor agreement language from the bill and questions the constitutionality of the requirement.
“If this proposal is signed into law as is, I expect there to be court challenges on whether the state can force the private sector to utilize these union-only agreements which will result in less competitive bidding and higher construction costs for investors,” Fryxell said. “If private enterprise wants a PLA, that’s their right, but the government shouldn’t be dictating it.”