Union rallies at Near West Side dispensary where workers claim they were fired for organizing efforts

A rally was held Wednesday outside a Near West Side cannabis dispensary by union leaders and elected officials a week after two employees claimed they were fired for their organizing efforts.

“This is an industry that promised great jobs and career opportunities when pushing to legalize marijuana and they aren’t living up to that promise,” said Jim Doane, one of the recently fired employees. “We are making what Wendy’s entry-level employees are making and we are just advocating for better money, better scheduling and better ways to be promoted.”

Doane, 48, left a career as a restaurant general manager to become a bud tender at Zen Leaf Dispensary, 1301 S. Western Ave. He said it was his dream job and he quickly became one of the dispensary’s best employees — receiving highly rated reviews online and being trusted to help establish other dispensaries in other newly legalized states.

He said poor wages, scheduling and advancement opportunities made him look toward Teamsters Local 777, who had just successfully helped another Zen Leaf dispensary in suburban Lombard unionize earlier this year — a move he believes cost him his job as he was an organizing leader.

Workers at the Zen Leaf Dispensary in the Medical District filed a petition to unionize with Teamsters Local 777 earlier this month. Employees will vote on whether to form a union in July.

“I worked 30 years of my life in management, so I was an ideal employee, I had ambitions to move up with Zen Leaf,” Doane said. “But I’m an old guy and I am tired of being bullied by the bosses. I showed up early, I received praise and I worked hard for them to just fire me.”

Doane said he was told by Zen Leaf that economic hardship at the company was the reason he was let go, but he believes they caught wind of his role in fighting for a union.

Zen Leaf, who’s parent company is Verano Holdings, has dispensaries across the country, including 10 in Illinois.

Grace Bondy, a spokeswoman for Verano Holdings, declined to comment on the two recently terminated employees but said “We respect our team members’ rights to choose whether they want to be represented by a union.”

Richard Perez, who said he was fired because he was leading a union organizing effort at his former dispensary, hugs an employee on Wednesday outside of Zen Leaf Dispensary at 1301 S. Western Ave.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Doane said Zen Leaf started offering product discounts to employees — except those at the company’s sole unionized shop — in hopes of discouraging any talks of other organizing efforts. Employees, he said, saw right through that.

About two dozen union officials attended the mid-week rally in support of the two recently terminated employees. Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and state Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, also appeared at the rally to show their support for the unionization efforts.

“Verano’s tactics are shameful and unlawful. The unity and resolve that these workers have demonstrated is inspiring,” Teamsters organizer Pasquale Gianni said. “This will serve as a rallying point for our union election next month, as well as our fight for a contract that wins gains in pay, benefits, and working conditions. Teamsters fight to ensure workers are respected, valued, and heard.”

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