Employees at Om of Medicine, a recreational and medicinal cannabis dispensary in downtown Ann Arbor, have received backlash from management for forming a union, according to both former and current employees. Employees allege this backlash has included the firing of three prominent pro-union employees along with increased surveillance and stricter standards for employees still at the store.

On Sept. 23, employees at Om sent a letter of recognition to the company’s leadership, requesting the company acknowledge the formation of the union. This would allow employees to create a formal unit to bargain collectively with management to secure wages and benefits, create a safe workplace environment, discuss racial injustices and address other issues important to the workers at Om. 

In the letter, employees urged the company to swiftly recognize their union and refrain from holding compulsory employee meetings espousing anti-union rhetoric. 

“We ask that you commit to a fair and cooperative process as we move forward together,” the letter reads. “This means avoiding outside anti-union consultants and lawyers who might attempt to bully, threaten or instill fear among us. It means not scheduling compulsory captive audience meetings where we are forced to listen to anti-union rhetoric. It means respecting our rights and our carefully considered decision to unionize.”

Om leadership denied the demands to recognize the union and will instead initiate a fair and anonymous election process under the National Labor Relations Act to formally recognize the union.

Shortly after the letter was delivered to management, three Om employees were fired from the company. 

Lisa Conine, former Om community outreach coordinator for more than four years and one of the employees let go from the company, said the employees hoped management would recognize the union as a way to open discussion around employee working environments. Conine said the decision to fire employees for sending the letter was a strong message to the community that they no longer supported the employees’ involvement in social justice work. 

“They fired us and tried to escort us out almost like criminals,” Conine said. “I’ve been there for four years, and they tried to make me leave out the back door with an escort, and it was very, very painful.”

That same day, the cannabis store closed early, and employees protested outside of the store, leading many to question the future of the company.

A current employee at Om, who requested to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation from their employer, said the workplace environment completely shifted when the letter of recognition was sent to management. 

“We know they’re watching us constantly,” the employee said. “It makes me personally feel very paranoid. I feel like I can’t step the wrong way without being told I’m doing the wrong thing.”

Mark Passerini, co-founder of Om, told The Daily in an email statement that providing a safe and fair working environment for Om employees is a critical point in their mission as a company. 

“Our Omies are not only valued members of our community, they are the people vital to fulfilling our mission,” Passerini wrote. “We strive to make our Omies proud of their place of employment.”

In April 2019, Om was acquired by 4Front Venture Mission Dispensaries, a nation-wide cannabis investment company. Since the new transition, Conine said there has been difficulty in maintaining Om’s values to remain focused on the patients, the medicinal side of care and educating customers on cannabis treatment.

“Quickly, it became pretty evident that the goal of the company was to be more just operations-focused, efficiently-focused, focused on revenue,” Conine said. “And so we’ve been speaking up and kind of pushing back on a lot of changes, ever since the beginning.”

4Front directed The Daily to Passerini’s statement. 

Passerini said Om is one of the longest operating dispensaries in the country and is dedicated to advancing cannabis reform and serving its patients and customers with quality cannabis products in a safe and responsible manner. 

“Om of Medicine is also committed to equal employment opportunity, treating everyone fairly and maintaining an environment free of discrimination, harassment and intimidation,” Passerini wrote. “Om of Medicine strictly prohibits conduct from anyone — including customers — that violates this policy.  While we do not comment on personnel matters, our employment decisions are consistent with our mission, values and policies.”

A key reason for deciding to unionize has been issues surrounding race at the dispensary, particularly in light of the summer’s protests surrounding the police killing of George Floyd, says Ana Gomulka, the former social equity program coordinator at Om and one of the three employees let go from the company. 

A flashpoint for employees came this summer when a former delivery driver, who was Black, asked for permission to forgo  a delivery to a more conservative suburb in the area because he worried about his safety as a Black man who would be carrying multiple ounces of marijuana in a vehicle, even though it was legal. The manager at the time, however, refused the request and made the delivery driver complete the delivery anyway, after which employees decided to start organizing and having conversations. 

“We took action as a team, the employees and said, you know, this is not okay,” Gomulka said “We held a space for each other to talk about what actions we needed to see from corporate moving forward in order to feel safe and secure in our own workspace.” 

Gomulka and other employees were eventually successful in getting managers at the store level to undergo implicit racial bias training, but not in getting members of the board and corporate leadership to do the same, as they had hoped.

In addition to the episode with the delivery driver, another point of tension Gomulka and other employees have had with the board and store leadership has been their refusal to put out a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, something dozens of companies did in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests. 

For Gomulka, the lack of a public statement surrounding Black Lives Matter was particularly concerning given the racial makeup of the leadership of the company. 

“All leadership in this company is white and this is a national company,” Gomulka said. “The entire board is white, all the investors are white, and we confronted them and we said you know this is a problem for us because there’s no representation. We need representation and we need an actual public statement about Black Lives Matter, and the company refused to put it out. They told us that they didn’t want to be political.”

4Front Ventures CEO Leo Gontmakher eventually sent out a company-wide email, which was obtained by The Daily, commenting on Black Lives Matter and the protests. While the statement acknowledged the disproportionate incarceration of people of color for drug crimes and said the company “stand(s) in solidarity with the peaceful protestors helping bring large numbers of people out of their state of complacency,” employees like Gomulka were upset by the statement’s final paragraph in which Gontmakher seemed to argue that people of differing viewpoints smoking cannabis together could help to heal the racial divide. 

“This letter was very insensitive … it basically said, you know, at the end of the day, if we could all smoke a joint together, racism would go away,” Gomulka said. 

The final paragraph of the statement read, “And not to trivialize the matters at hand, but one is left to wonder what would happen if some of these communities in opposition could sit down and share a joint and talk it out, taking advantage of one of the appealing attributes of cannabis. We all have so much more in common than we have in difference.” 

The unwillingness of 4Front and Om to make public statements about Black Lives Matter, even if in an effort to refrain from being political, is particularly upsetting to Gomulka because the issue of the prohibition of cannabis and racism are fundamentally connected.

“They’re making money off of a plant that has really devastated Black communities, and all they have to do is acknowledge and give back, and their refusal to do that has really made it an uncomfortable and unsafe environment for their Black (and) Brown employees,” Gomulka said. “When Black men are going to prison at unfathomable rates, things we’re still dealing with to this day, but we have large corporations buying everything up and demanding that they refuse to be political because of their white power, because of the position and privilege they’re in, it becomes a very large issue.”

Daily Staff Reporters Carter Howe and Kristina Zheng can be reached at tcbhowe@umich.edu and krizheng@umich.edu. 

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