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A Group of California Trimmigrants Sue for Worker Protections

PHOTO Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

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A Group of California Trimmigrants Sue for Worker Protections

A new potential class action lawsuit highlights a key difference between a legal cannabis market and an illegal one: a worker’s ability to turn to the courts for help.

California cannabis workers have filed a major class action lawsuit against two cannabis companies, alleging that the companies did not pay their workers for overtime, did not provide the required meal and rest breaks and threatened employees not to leave the farm’s remote location.

According to the proposed class action lawsuit, a group of workers hired to trim cannabis at a farm in Lake County, California are looking to sue the cannabis harvesting company Loud Buddha LLC and Pura Cali Management Corp., a cultivation contractor hired by Loud Buddha.

The companies are accused of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and the California labor code for practices which, unfortunately, are common on illicit market cannabis grows but are now verboten on California’s newly legal cannabis farms.

According to the complaint, after working on the farm through the summer, 50 workers processed the crop and loaded it into commercial freezers. The workers said in the complaint they produced multiple tons of cannabis. While that may sound like a fun time, according to the workers’ 11-count complaint, it was anything but. They say they were forced to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. They were also expected to remain at the farm’s remote location and were threatened with discipline if they left. Other parts of the complaint included failing to track hours, overtime, travel reimbursement, and even not providing meal and rest breaks.

Some would argue these kind of cases will be a growing pain of the cannabis industry necessary to force out the bad actors. But whatever these class action cases are, expect more of them. This is because of a recent ruling in the Tenth Circuit, Kenney v. Helix TCS, which firmly established even if a business was operating in violation of the federal Controlled Substance Act, it must be in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, regardless of state law.

In short, the Tenth Circuit court concluded that just because an employer is breaking one federal law doesn’t mean they are off the hook with following other ones, namely, the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“Cannabis consumers can and must demand better from businesses in the legal cannabis industry,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Cannabis Now.

Altieri went on to note that the cannabis community didn’t push to bring marijuana from an underground market to a regulated one just so rich investors could exploit and demean working class Americans for no reason other than to slightly increase their profit margins.

He had a firm response to how these kinds of operators should be dealt with by regulators.

“If the allegations of labor abuses practiced by Loud Buddha, Pura Cali Management and others are accurate, they should not only be forced to compensate their employees for their rightfully earned wages and then some, they should promptly lose whatever licenses they maintain to engage in cannabis commerce in legal states,” Altieri said.

This isn’t the first time the California cannabis industry has been rocked by a labor lawsuit scandal. Last December, multistate cannabis operator MedMen was hit with a potential class action lawsuit that alleged two of its subsidiaries failed to pay minimum wage for off-the-clock work, pay employees the proper amount for their time and provide mandatory breaks, and that they failed to keep accurate records of hours worked. MedMen disputes the allegations.

When California voted to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2016 and when the regulated market rolled out in 2018, advocates hoped that the newly legal cannabis market would allow workers in the cannabis industry access to the legal system and to regulations that could protect them from exploitation. Whether or not these workers are able to exercise their rights remains to be seen.

TELL US, would you want to work in the cannabis industry?

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. marc schwabinger

    December 20, 2019 at 8:33 am

    UNION

  2. Michelle

    December 14, 2019 at 9:26 am

    I of course feel like if these workers were forced to work under conditions they did not agree to that are outside of the law they deserve compensation and the employers should be held accountable. But I would also like to point out the flip side to this. Recently California changed the laws that allowed some workers to work the hours they choose, like i. The instance of Uber or food delivery or truckers. Many people in these businesses have protested against these changes stating that it is hurting them more than helping them. In the past, most trimmers were paid by the pound. Most of them wanted to work as much as they could to make as much money as they could during the harvest season. They would put in as many hours as they wanted to make that money, and they would not like being limited to 8 hours a day. They also do not like getting paid by the hour since most of them get paid 15 dollars an hour now and employers will make more shifts rather than pay overtime. Those trimmers are taking a big cut in the pay they could have expected in past years. On the flip side, many trimmers were forced to work in conditions that were terrible and sometimes downright dangerous. Many trinmigrants that did not have good regular circuits to work had to take what they could get and were either in dangerous situations or promised pay they never received with no real avenue to recover their money or hold the employer accountable. I feel that legalization will help with those cases, but I think that some of them would prefer to still be able to work the hours they are use to and make closer to the wages they use to. Of course with legalization came much higher overhead for the cultivators, and the price of cannabis significantly dropped, creating an industry that can no longer afford to pay trimmers, which is not a highly skilled job (I am not saying there are not some better skilled trimmers than others, or that there is no skill, just saying you can learn it without college or years of apprenticeship) what they use to pay them. This has caused much resentment in trimmers who in the past, if they found a good place to trim, would get 200 dollars a pound and get fed and housed. This was partly due to the fact that 1. They got paid more because they had the risk of getting arrested along with everyone else if the police raided the place, and 2. They were being paid well to keep their mouths shut and feel compensated enough not to come back and rob you later so they could make that good money again the next harvest season. Now legalization protects the trimmers more and the farmers more because both can turn to the correct authorities when things go bad from either side..bad employers or bad employees. I think employee and employer protections are a great thing, but some workers and employers would prefer to make their own plans for hours and pay as long as it is agreeable to both parties, and there is a clear written contract to back up the agreement. I think the state is trying to do the right thing, but like everything else, when they regulate things too much it can harm the will of the people it is trying to protect.

  3. Briz

    December 14, 2019 at 3:22 am

    no matter how the try to fight the can’t stop it because marijuana sounds good when it sold illegal .

    • biff

      December 15, 2019 at 11:25 am

      Um. What?

  4. Briz

    December 14, 2019 at 3:21 am

    This sounds interesting but no matter how the try to fight the can’t stop it because marijuana sounds good when it sold illegal .

  5. Briz

    December 14, 2019 at 3:16 am

    This sounds interesting but no matter how the try to fight the can’t stop it because marijuana sounds good when it sold illegal nice one.

  6. Syedrasul. A

    December 14, 2019 at 12:03 am

    Yes I want to work in the cannabis industry

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