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Washington gets its first unionized marijuana shop

It’s a first in Washington’s six-year legal marijuana industry -- the state’s first unionized retail store, and the owner couldn't be more thrilled about it. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE -- It’s a first in Washington’s six-year legal marijuana industry -- the state’s first unionized retail store, and the owner couldn't be more thrilled about it.

Have A Heart has signed a collective bargaining agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, covering it’s 134 retail shop employees at its five locations.

Luke Wong is one of those newly covered employees.

“I’ve only really done serving jobs before this, it’s the same skill set but different products obviously," said Wong, who is the Belltown shop’s lead 'budtender'.

Marijuana is a far different product than any other and that’s what makes this unionization so special.

“We are not allowed to deduct any expenses that normal businesses are allowed to,” said Have A Heart CEO Ryan Kunkel, who founded the company in 2011.

The IRS allows business deductions for employer supplied benefits such as health insurance costs and retirement contributions, but not if the business deals with marijuana.

“Because we still traffic in a federally illegal narcotic in the eyes of the federal government, they will take our tax revenue, " Kunkel said. "However, they won't acknowledge what we have is a legal business -- therefore we don't get deductions.”

He was in a predicament, wanting to compete for good workers, but unable to deduct the benefits he could offer them. Now, the union is providing the benefits that Have A Heart could not deduct.

“This was one of the fastest negotiations we’ve had because the owner was neutral and let the employee do what they want," said UFCW 21 President Crosby.

He says there’s hasn’t been a situation he recalls where federal law hasn’t prevented workers to unionize in a business federal government considers illegal. He’s hoping for policy changes that will make it easier.

“I think that's our next step, we really need to talk about the regulatory structure needs to catch up to allow workers to organize in the cannabis industry," he said.

Kunkel says he owns 18 cannabis retail licenses in six other states and plans to let workers at those shops collectively bargain if they chose.

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