New Local Law Grants Union-Like Job Retention Safeguards to Workers in Seattle’s Marijuana Industry

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Seattle’s Newest Cannabis-Related Law Takes Effect a Year After Mayor Harrell’s Proposal

Nearly twelve months following Seattle Mayor Bruce Harnell’s initial proposal, the city’s latest cannabis-related legislation has been put into action. The law, co-authored by Mayor Harrell and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (D), who sponsored the bill within the Council, was presented to the public as part of a comprehensive set of measures aimed at enhancing equity within the cannabis sector.

Named the “Cannabis Employee Job Retention Ordinance,” this new law offers essential protections for workers within the industry, with the intention of promoting a stable work environment, strengthening the workforce, and contributing to Seattle’s overall economic growth. Steven Marchese, Director of the Office of Labor Standards, emphasized these goals in a news release accompanying the announcement.

Final regulations and timeframes for the legislation were recently established earlier this month. The legislation introduced a new chapter, titled “Cannabis Employee Job Retention,” into the Seattle Municipal Code. Its purpose is to safeguard employees within the cannabis industry in the event of changes in ownership or business sales.

The legislation introduces the concept of a “preferential hiring list” based on the principle of “seniority.” This mechanism aims to protect regular employees in cases of management transitions. The law mandates that employers must prioritize seniority within each job category, as long as comparable classifications exist. This requirement lasts for a full 180 days after any alteration in management.

These protections extend to all individuals employed by licensed dispensaries in any capacity. The idea of seniority, however, remains somewhat vague. The law defines seniority as the employee’s tenure within their most recent job category, though it does not provide specific criteria for determining this category.

In the absence of a clear definition, the law allows for a union-like determination based on the “employee’s date of hire.” This information must be provided by the departing employer prior to any management or ownership changes.

The legislation also establishes an additional safeguard for industry employees. If an offer of employment is extended, an offer that is likely limited to candidates from the preferential hiring list, the employer is obligated to retain the employee for a minimum of 90 days. The law does make an exception for terminations based on “just cause.”

Cody Funderburk, a cannabis industry professional, activist, and former member of the local cannabis union UFCW 3000, praised the law as a monumental advancement in protecting the rights of cannabis industry employees.

This legislation has already become effective for all dispensaries within the City of Seattle.

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