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New union contract at Vireo OK’d

PERTH — Unionized cannabis workers at Vireo Health of New York — the medical marijuana manufacturer at the Tryon Technology Park — have a new retroactive, three-year contract after months of negotiations

Local 338 Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU)/United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), announced Friday that Vireo workers recently ratified a new three-year contract. The pact was part of a larger collective bargaining effort. Vireo’s last contract expired last August.

Vireo’s union represents more than 13,000 working men and women employed at supermarkets, grocery stores, specialty food stores, assisted living facilities, retail drug stores and pharmacies, and medical cannabis companies across Upstate New York, New York City, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley.

Local 338 Political & Communications Director Nikki Kateman said Monday that the new agreement covers about 50 workers at the company. The new paid time off terms increase the amount of time members accrue in their paid time-off bank, as well as the speed in which they accrue it, she said.

A news release issued by the union last week indicates Vireo workers won “significant wage increases and additional time off.”

“The new contract significantly builds on benefits that were included in the first contract, which was negotiated in 2016,” the release said. “The workers in the bargaining unit work across New York state at the cultivation and processing center, as well as four retail dispensaries.”

Vireo Health of New York is a cannabis growing facility operational the past five years at the Tryon Technology Park. It provides medical marijuana for dispensaries in Albany, Johnson City, White Plains and Queens. Vireo Health of New York — licensed by New York state in July 2015 — cultivates cannabis in its environmentally friendly greenhouses and manufactures pharmaceutical-grade cannabis extracts in their state-of-the-art labs.

Workers at the Tryon park will receive annual wage increases over the term of the contract. Workers will receive retroactive increases from the expiration of the contract in August 2019. The hourly rate of pay for members will increase an average of 16 percent to 25 percent, based on the union members’ job classification and years of service over the term of the agreement.

The release said the union also secured language in the contract that increases the minimum starting rate for new hires.

Workers will receive additional paid time off, as well as increased holiday pay.

Vireo Health will continue to provide workers and their dependents with full medical coverage through the union’s medical fund at no cost to the workers, through the term of the contract, the release said.

“I am proud to have served on the negotiating committee and have the opportunity to voice the issues that were most important to my co-workers and I,” said Kassan Seisay, a Local 338 member working at Vireo Health New York. “Working with our union, we won many important improvements to our wages and benefits that show that we’ve not only been heard, but that we’re also valued. Knowing that we go to work every day with the protections of a strong union contract is empowering and that helps us provide the best care for our patients.”

Joseph Fontano, secretary-treasurer of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, added in the release: “With strong starting salaries for new hires, wage increases for current workers and increased paid time off, the new contract at Vireo Health New York sets a standard for what workers in New York’s medical cannabis industry need and deserve. Our members are dedicated to the patients they serve and provide significant service to the company they work for. Many of them were also active participants in the negotiating process and when workers come together, they can secure strong contracts that ensure fair treatment and respect on the job — which they have successfully done at Vireo.”

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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