Labor & Business

No compassion for workers at Greenleaf dispensary in Portsmouth

“I think cannabis should be legalized, absolutely, but it shouldn’t be legalized so that rich white men can continue to build wealth,” said Parker Terrell, a member of the Greenleaf Compassion Center union negotiating team.
Photo for No compassion for workers at Greenleaf dispensary in Portsmouth

Published on June 28, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

“Rhode Island communities in Portsmouth and across the state deserve a good community partner at their local medicinal dispensary that respects the rights of their workers,” says UFCW Local 328 in a press release. The union is urging community members to show their support by calling Greenleaf Compassion Center at 401-293-5987 and sending an email to help@greenleafcare.org to demand that CEO Seth Bock reinstate employee Ben Telford, a member of Greenleaf’s union negotiating team who was fired last Wednesday.

UpriseRI arrived at Greenleaf Compassion Center, located in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, while employees staged a one-day strike in support of Telford, who they say was terminated without due process and without just cause in retaliation for things he might have said during union negotiations.

“I am part of the initiative to push this [union] forward and deal with prior worker grievances [and] prior wrongful terminations,” said Telford. “My wrongful termination comes from a long line of them…” The employee grievances and wrongful terminations preceded the formation of a union for years. The union came together in January, and was officially formed in April of this year on a 21 to 1 vote.

It’s been a process since then of a lot of retaliation, discrimination, bullying, surveillance, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Telford. “This is really about securing good careers and jobs for our team here.”

The picket outside Greenleaf was entirely peaceful. Recognizing that patients need their medicinal cannabis, employees did not attempt to prevent customers from entering the store, and only asked that if possible, they delay their purchase by a day. Customers seemed very supportive of the picketers.

UpriseRI also spoke to Parker Terrell, a “budtender” at Greenleaf Compassion Center who is also on the union negotiating committee.

“Culturally, what it feels like here is that if we are to really voice the way that we feel about how the dispensary is run – the team here is very patient centered. This is a medicinal facility, we’re here for patients,” said Terrell. “So when we try to advocate for that a lot of people in middle management, not just in the bargaining unit, have been terminated or been forced out because essentially we’re going against what the owner, Dr Bock, is trying to implement.”

Seth Bock, the owner of Greenleaf Compassion Center, pulls down a million dollar salary at this “nonprofit” facility. He also managed to award himself a $200k bonus last year. Since the formation of the union Bock has cancelled employee discounts, and stalks employees on social media, say employees. Bock has been sued by a former employee for age and disability discrimination.

Flyer handed out by Greenleaf worker’s during their one-day strike on Saturday

“One of the things I have to say that really sticks out to me is Greenleaf is a white facing company,” said Terrell. “You won’t see many people of color on our staff, and there’s a reason – [Management] has made it very uncomfortable here, there have been racist comments made by upper level management, we’ve had people who have had their salaries capped.”

The money being made at Greenleaf is likely to explode in coming years.

“Rhode Island hasn’t even gone recreational yet, so this man’s business may not even have scratched the service” said Terrell. “I think cannabis should be legalized, absolutely, but it shouldn’t be legalized so that rich white men can continue to build wealth.”

Currently, the Rhode Island State Senate has passed legislation legalizing recreational cannabis, but the Rhode Island House leadership will not take up the legislation until September, at the earliest. That said, the legalization schemes under consideration don’t go nearly far enough in insuring racial equity. (For more on what social and economic justice looks like in terms of Cannabis legislation, see: Better than New York? Cannabis legalization in RI needs to center social and economic justice, say advocates)

UFCW provided the following background:

“UFCW Local 328 is filing unfair labor practices (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the government agency responsible for investigating and remedying the infringement of worker rights, over the illegal retaliatory firing of the Greenleaf employee.

“Greenleaf CEO Bock has exhibited a history of retaliation against employees and is currently being investigated by the NLRB for retaliation and surveillance and has been sued by a former employee for age and disability discrimination.

“Greenleaf workers unionized with UFCW Local 328 in April 2021, citing concerns about job security and lack of workplace protections, In just the past six months, the Greenleaf CEO has fired the Director of Retail Operations, the Head of Delivery, the Human Resources Manager and the Chief Operating Officer.”

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