Update, April 6, 2022: UFCW Local 7 organizer Jimena Peterson told Denverite that the union negotiated with Green Dragon, and the three workers who said they were fired for union organizing now have their grow-house jobs back.
They blasted the company for union-busting and encouraged people to call company leader Ryan Milligan to demand he recognizes the union and improves conditions at the grow operation. Milligan did not respond to Denverite’s multiple messages for comment.
The picket was a response to the company ending its relationship with three grow-house workers, Jared Handran, Natasha Martinez and Ethan Haley, who said they were fired on Monday for supporting the union’s efforts.
Workers at Green Dragon alleged the growhouse is filled with mold and insects and that the company refuses to provide adequate ventilation. Haley said algae grows on the floor, making it slippery in some spots. The growhouse lacks a break room, and wages are too low, workers said.
“We’ve been trying to unionize because the lot of the working conditions here are pretty, pretty bad,” Haley said. “There’s a lot of other conditions that are just not safe.”
Grow-house workers have been denied requests for personal protective equipment, Martinez said, so they began brining in their own masks.
Even so, “I can’t breathe,” Handran said. “All day, I have to wear a dust mask. And even with a dust mask, I go home and hack up mucus. It’s horrible. Like, some days, I can’t even breathe when I come home.”
“I sometimes can’t sleep at night with how hard I’m coughing,” Martinez said. “The breathing is really rough, and it doesn’t help that they’ve heard my complaint for, like, a year now, and nothing has changed.”
When workers have taken concerns to management, the bosses have made promises to improve conditions and then failed to deliver, she said.
“They can’t even put in a ventilation system,” she said. “They don’t care. All they care about is how to make the most money as cheaply as possible and not care about their employees or their health or their well being.”
It’s not just the working conditions that are poor, said Haley, noting that the quality of the product is lacking because of the growing conditions.
The customers ultimately suffer the consequences, Handran said. “I feel bad for those people that don’t know what to look for in weed, because you’re probably smoking mold and bugs.
For him, corners are being cut to make money at all cost.
“It’s not Green Dragon,” Handran said. “It’s Greed Dragon.”
Jimena Peterson, an organizer with UFCW 7, has been organizing Green Dragon workers over the past year. She said this particular unionization effort is historic in Colorado.
“Colorado has a special law that allows agricultural workers now to unionize,” she said, referring to 2021 legislation. “So Green Dragon is one of the first campaigns that we have been able to file with the state of Colorado. It’s been a long process, because Green Dragon has fought us every step of the way.”
While safety issues are front and center for workers, she also said they are not being paid enough.
“They’re working for a company that makes thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars,” Peterson said, “And they don’t see any of the rewards.”
Green Dragon’s attacks on the union have heated up, organizers said.
When the company caught wind of the unionization efforts, it offered raises to disincentive unionization. It even terminated staff positions for growhouse workers and rehired them on a day-by-day contract through the staffing agency Staff Zone.
The move to rehire staff as contractors, Peterson said, was an effort to prevent them from organizing.
Ultimately, it failed, she said, and the State of Colorado has continued its role in bringing the possibility of a Green Dragon growhouse union to a worker vote.
On April 13, Green Dragon workers will decide whether to form an official union, though the process may be stalled because mail-in ballots have not been sent out by the state in time.
“Green Dragon is very anti-union,” Peterson said. “I really hope the community can stand by us and let these workers know that union busting is not okay and holds this company responsible for what they’re doing to the workers.”