Editorial: Don't force unions on pot industry

The Detroit News

Michigan’s Department of Licensing And Regulatory Affairs is trying to force labor unions on the marijuana industry. It’s backhanded, unnecessary and it ought to stop immediately. 

Last month, LARA introduced a draft of rules governing marijuana licensing that included language which mandates that each applicant enter into a "labor peace agreement" with the state. That means applicants would have to be a member of “a bona fide labor organization” that would protect the state from worker strikes.

Michigan’s right-to-work law prohibits the requirement of union membership for workers trying to get and keep a job. Yet, the proposed licensing rules achieve this in a backdoor fashion by rejecting non-unionized licensees.

General manager Nick Warra, right, waits on Kelly Savage, 25, of Ohio, left, with Karessa Elsberry, 23, also of Ohio, bottom right, at Exclusive Provisioning Center.  Savage has type 1 diabetes and also uses marijuana socially.

Rulemakers justify this move saying that disruptions to the supply of legal marijuana caused by worker unrest could send shoppers to the dangerous black market. Unionization, therefore, is necessary to secure a healthy legal market. 

That’s not much of an argument. There are plenty of other regulated markets — liquor stores, pharmacies and hospitals to name a few — that are much larger and arguably more important than the pot industry, yet they don’t require union membership.

Is the marijuana industry really that special? Or is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration simply doing Big Labor a favor?

“This is not the first time the claim has been made that we’ll have a safer product if employees are unionized,” says Charles Owens of the National Federation of Independent Business in Michigan. “It’s unnecessary. It should be up to the employees to decide whether or not they want to be in a union.” 

Forcing unionization on pot workers sounds too much like other schemes the state worked to end during Gov. Rick Snyder's tenure. For instance, the Service Employees International Union skimmed more than $30 million in dues from the paychecks of unsuspecting home-based caregivers (often family members who didn't want to be in the union) under a deal struck in 2005 with Gov. Jennifer Granholm's blessing.

State Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, took issue with the rules at the Dec. 12 meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on LARA.

In a formal letter to the Marijuana Regulatory Agency's Executive Director Andrew Brisbo, Nesbitt said the labor peace agreement was “completely unacceptable” and “clearly a politically motivated scheme to benefit Governor Whitmer’s political supporters.”

“These rules are nothing more than a mob style protection racket perpetrated on Michigan businesses by [the MRA] for the benefit of labor unions,” he wrote. “At least the mob lets businesses get started before they start demanding money.”

Unions were originally founded to protect workers from unfair labor practices. But these rules would require workers to join a union that has already promised it will not strike, or picket, or do any of the powerful actions that unions have to keep employers accountable.

Let's be honest, this isn't about employers and employees. Whitmer promised her supporters she'd fight right to work, but this is not the way to go about it.