Employees said they want their compensation to reflect the value they bring to the company and the industry as a whole.
Utah’s first medical cannabis dispensary is now also the first dispensary with a unionized workforce.
Dragonfly Wellness Cannabis Dispensary employees voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 99 last week. Thirty of the pharmacy’s approximately 36 employees, including wellness associations, drivers, pharmacists and inventory specialists, are now represented by the UFCW.
“We know we add value to the company,” said Barry Follmer, wellness employee and union organizer. “We believe our compensation, benefits, PTO… should reflect that. We bring a lot of knowledge, experience, care and kindness to this job.”
Dragonfly staff began organizing in July, they said, and moved quickly when they contacted UFCW. They filed a ballot in August and voted on Wednesday.
Follmer said there is already a feeling among employees that “they need to make a change, … come together and do something to take back our rights in the workplace.”
He and other workers said that despite Dragonfly management’s attempts to dissuade them – Dragonfly had hired Crossroads Group, which workers viewed as a “renowned” union-busting company, according to the UFCW – employees stuck together and voted 19-4 to unionize organize.
Utah has a “right to work” law, meaning a company cannot deny employment to someone based on whether or not they belong to a union or other association.
Dragonfly management did not immediately respond to The Tribune’s request for comment. The Crossroads Group, which was hired by the UFCW to manipulate union efforts, was previously charged by the National Labor Relations Board with coercive speech related to union organizing.
Dragonfly’s website says the pharmacy is community-oriented and built on a “strong bond with patients and staff.”
Dragonfly CEO Hoang Nguyen is a co-founder of Sapa Investment Group, which also develops real estate and owns several restaurants. she is is running for a seat in the Utah House of Representatives in District 23, which stretches from Salt Lake City’s 900 East through Emigration and Parleys Canyons to Summit Park. Nguyen is a Democrat, as is the district’s current representative, Brian S. King.
The vote makes Dragonfly employees the first cannabis workers in the state to be represented by a union. UFCW represents cannabis workers in other states, including Arizona, where Curaleaf Dispensary employees went on strike on September 15.
Cannabis is a rapidly growing and evolving industry, said UFCW spokesman Drake Ridge, and one of the roles of a union is to protect workers from volatility.
Utah only allows medical cannabis use – patients must have a prescription and health card – so the state is not seeing the same rapid growth as neighboring Arizona or New Mexico. Ridge said such growth in other states has pushed out “mom and pop” pharmacies in favor of chains and corporations.
But such a change could still happen in Utah, Ridge said, and industry workers should be prepared.
Medical marijuana sales have increased steadily since 2020, according to state data.
Dragonfly was the first of 15 marijuana dispensaries to open in Utah in March 2020, according to the state’s database. It grows its own product.
“Workers see profits being made, but don’t feel it in their paychecks,” Ridge said. “Part of this is ensuring that the workers who help the industry thrive, who build direct relationships with patients and give them the medications they need for everyday life, get a fair share of the profits.”
Employees who spoke to The Tribune said they “genuinely love” Dragonfly and want it to thrive — which is why they formed a union. What makes Dragonfly special is its people, they said, and they hope the UFCW chapter can strengthen Dragonfly’s team as a whole.
“Honestly, we see each other more than our families,” said event director Sharyn Leonard. “A lot of people see it as a problem, but I really enjoy the people I work with.”
“When I started [at Dragonfly]“I knew the group I was working with was special,” said Adriana Cahua, a wellness worker. “We can’t thrive if Dragonfly doesn’t thrive.”
“We are here to make your business great,” Follmer reiterated. “I’m not trying to tear down a company I want to work for.”
Shannon Sollitt is a Report for America Corps member concerned with business responsibility and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation, in addition to our RFA grant, will help ensure she continues to write stories like this. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking Here.