Updated Analysis and Call to Action!
May 14, 2020 —
Today, May 14th, officials in Illinois reported 3,239 new cases of COVID-19 and 138 additional deaths. That brings the overall number of known cases to 87,937 and the statewide death toll to 3,928 since the pandemic began in March.
Our company, Green Thumb Industries (GTI) reported today a total revenue for the first quarter 2020 of $102.6 million. This is an increase of 267.6% year-over-year and a 35.4% increase quarter-over-quarter. Gross margin for the first quarter 2020 was 51.6% as compared to 45.8% for the first quarter 2019. This amounts to a triple in revenue. Ben Kovler, founder and CEO of GTI, had this to say:
“I want to thank the entire Green Thumb team for their steadfast commitment to serving our customers, effectively pivoting as regulations evolve while operating at the highest standards every day. I am especially proud of our retail team members, who are working on the front lines to provide exceptional service to our customers. They are the true heroes.”
GTI corporate has proven again and again to say one thing and do another. The company continues to project a public image of being the best place to work, with happy, safe, respected, and well-compensated employees. While at the retail level, us workers experience another reality. We have heard and read GTI corporate and management say thank you, give positive affirmations, and now refer to us as heroes. But the truth is, GTI’s actions do not match their words. We have been collectively organizing to improve and transform our workplace conditions for months now. GTI continues to ignore our collective requests for improvements, fairness, and just compensation. While also taking steps to undermine and interfere in our efforts to have a fair and free union election. Here is a brief analysis of the last several months, followed by a discussion of next steps.
On behalf of our coworkers and patients at 3C Compassionate Care Center in Naperville, a medical cannabis dispensary owned by GTI, we created this petition three weeks ago to request public support to protect cannabis workers, patients, and customers, many of whom are immunocompromised. We wanted to ensure our community the medicine they need without putting them or ourselves at a higher risk for COVID-19 infection.
On March 12th, 2020, GTI issued an email to employees discussing the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, outlining safety measures that will be taken in order to ensure the health and well-being of its employees and patients. During that weekend, approximately five of our 18-member team decided to stay at home in order to be safe. On Monday, March 16th, a press release by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) announced temporary rules allowing dispensaries “to sell medical cannabis on the dispensary’s property or on a public walkway or curb adjacent to the dispensary.” The majority of our staff then made a request to GTI that we operate as curbside-only, in order to mitigate risk as much as possible. We were told by management that GTI wished to keep the Illinois market fully open to offset the economic hits the company was taking in other states due to COVID-19.
Throughout the rest of March, our staff implemented the business guidelines of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and did our best to limit the number of patients in the dispensary and waiting room, doing an excellent job of coordinating and implementing all new changes to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19. As days went by however, it became clear just how contagious and deadly COVID-19 is. We continued asking for curbside-only, which was consistently denied. We continued asking for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, face masks, sanitizer, and were told there are none available due to nationwide shortages. If not for the kind patients who dropped off gloves and masks, we would have none.
On March 31st, a number of us had enough. Six more of us decided to organize and stay home because GTI would not listen to our collective requests for curbside-only and PPE. In fact, our store manager stated that GTI would not change its policies until a staff member or patient became infected with COVID-19. We considered that unacceptable. In the face of a growing pandemic, curbside-only and proper PPE are what we felt would best lower the risk of infection and death for our patients, staff, and communities. We also felt it necessary to report the company to OSHA and only as a result of our complaint did we receive a commitment by the company to provide us with PPE.
The very next day, April 1st, GTI began implementing the beginning of curbside sales. However, employees that were still working informed us that GTI was still allowing patient transfers, new patients, new applicants, and other patients inside. We therefore did not feel safe to return to work. We received no clarification of the new process of curbside-only sales from GTI until Monday, April 6th, in which the company stated it was not satisfied with curbside-only sales and intended to open to in-store service as soon as possible.
Due to GTI’s actions thus far, we felt the company did not respect our right to collective action to improve our workplace and protect ourselves and our patients. We believed that we could best serve our patients by operating as curbside-only, while utilizing telephones to continue to give care and guidance, and offering webinars to continue to educate our patients and deliver outreach services safely. As far as sales, at our dispensary for March 2020 we had our highest revenue in our history. Curbside-only sales had not amounted to a decrease in revenue in April.
On April 20th, GTI stated in their response letter to OSHA that they performed a hazard assessment and found that COVID-19 contaminants could linger in the air and on surfaces. We felt that curbside-only service was therefore the safest way to proceed during this pandemic. Staff still had not received sufficient masks to wear. The masks some of our employees did have were made from cloth, certainly not able to protect them from COVID-19 with the quick and constant air exchange that we have in our dispensary. Furthermore, masks were already known by the scientific community to not be enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside workplaces. The fact that many hospital workers are being infected attests to this.
We realized that GTI simply did not have the will to take our health and safety seriously, as they stated their goals to transition immediately back to in-store service on April 30th. We then gathered your signatures and sent them to Governor Pritzker, IDPH, and the IDFPR, asking them to update their guidelines in the face of this ever-worsening pandemic and implement the temporary closing of in-store service for all cannabis dispensaries until the spread of COVID-19 comes significantly under control.
On Thursday, April 23rd, GTI installed plexiglass guards in our dispensary, and the next day, GTI's founder and CEO, Ben Kovler, our Market President, Brendan Blume, our District Manager, Derrick Levy, and our Store Manager, Gregory Zeman, had a Q&A session over the phone with all workers at 3C Naperville regarding safety during COVID-19.
We brought up our concerns of the high risk of spread and infection of COVID-19 for our patients, staff, and communities. We discussed the lack of PPE and our requests to keep our stores as safe as possible and not go back to in-store service at this time. GTI corporate and management stated that they are hearing us, that they want to create the safest working environment for us, that we are indeed the ones who drive the stores and how we operate, that there has not been a downturn in business during curbside-only service, and that they wish to improve where they can.
However, when we asked if we can remain curbside-only since as frontline workers we consider this to be the safest environment possible for our patients and staff during this extremely dangerous time, GTI corporate and management stated that they have to make decisions based on the needs of the business. They then stated that they are making changes so that we feel safest by: providing us with N95 masks when they are available and asking us to wear them for a week before tossing them out, implementing plexiglass guards in front of the registers, fogging the store once a week with a chemical that will kill all virus/bacteria, providing us with Force of Nature spray bottles that kill all virus/bacteria, and implementing tape on the floor of the dispensary so that patients and clients know where to stand. They also stated that they are unsure we can call ourselves frontline workers during this time because our industry is still federally illegal. Finally, they referenced the new rules in our state mandating that people wear masks in public.
This was clearly an example of GTI saying one thing and doing another. An insult to our mental and emotional intelligence as it is clear they intended to open to in-store service despite us consistently stating that the safest environment for our patients and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic is curbside-only service and a steady supply of proper PPE.
Before we had transitioned to curbside-only in April, the environment in our store was not sufficiently safe. During the month of March our anxiety, stress, and fear levels peaked to the point of mental/physical/emotional exhaustion and breakdown. Even with masks we had brought or made from home, with the tape we had already put on the floor, and with the constant sanitation procedures we followed after every patient. The cleaning chemicals made our eyes, skin, and lungs burn. If GTI opens us back to in-store service this will only happen again. It is unrealistic and against current experience/evidence to open our doors again and expect that any sanitation and social distancing procedures will adequately protect us and our patients from infection and spread of COVID-19. Keeping our masks on for a week will also lessen their ability to keep us safe. The fogging of the stores and the chemicals we use to clean will again cause our eyes, skin, and lungs to burn.
We were told by GTI corporate and management that the $2 dollars an hour extra in hazard pay we receive is so that we will continue to take these risks. No amount of money is going to suffice to unnecessarily risk our lives, our families, and our communities. Especially when we can remain curbside-only and drastically lower this risk.
Even medical doctors are not consulting with patients in person at this time, only by phone or webcam. When patients come into our stores, they spend time looking over the menu and discussing medicines and products that might be best for their needs. This takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. New patient consults and intakes take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. We love what we do and want to continue our level of patient care but to do this inside at this time will mean that patients and staff will be exposed to a risk that is too high. Even if we sanitized everything after every patient, the air exchange is too fast in an indoor environment to conduct in-store service in a safe way. GTI's hazard assessment in March proved that COVID-19 contaminants can linger in the air and surfaces inside our dispensaries for hours.
Due to everything that had been occurring at our stores during the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to unionize together with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW-Local 881). We submitted our petition for a union election to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Thursday, April 23rd. Immediately, GTI began committing union busting activities. They inflated our numbers to include 9 more employees. This made it seem we did not have enough votes to win a union election by majority. Also, they falsified job descriptions to include Shift Supervisors and Agents in Charge as part of management, thereby not allowing them to vote in the union election. Shift Supervisors and Agents in Charge do not have hiring, firing, or disciplinary abilities/duties, Shift Managers however do. GTI took these actions to illegally undermine our efforts and right to have a fair and free union election.
On April 28th, after significant pressure and organizing, including this petition, GTI corporate and management changed their mind and announced our store would remain curbside-only for the month of May. This is a partial victory, as indeed this shift in company policy would have never come about if not for worker organizing and your support.
However this petition is not simply for the health and safety of the people who work and visit our facility. We are petitioning the state to make all dispensaries (medical and adult-use) curbside-only during this extremely dangerous pandemic. Please continue sharing as we want to continue to make it clear to the state and all cannabis companies such as GTI that we want them to do the right thing and make all dispensaries curbside-only. It would be incomplete if we were to do this for our clinic alone.
It is in this spirit that we also ask you to support cannabis patients, clients, and workers in Hawai'i and sign their petition for curbside pick-up during COVID-19 as well: http://chng.it/jrQsRRHB4T
We want to do the most we can to protect our communities and the greater human and sentient family during this deadly pandemic. Please contact GTI (info posted below) to request that all of our stores be curbside-only during COVID-19. The current rate of infection and death is too high, and continuing to subject our staff, patients, and communities to in-store service is too dangerous. We are not an acceptable loss.
So many of the industries in our nation are unnecessarily dangerous. The railroad, steel, canals, concrete, food, batteries, textile, factories, plastic, meat, farming, construction, tool and die, sanitation, chemical, etc.- these industries are often dangerous workplaces because companies refuse to do right by their workers and equip them with the proper health and safety protocols to mitigate injury and death. We should not allow this.
In this time of a pandemic, the true ethos of corporations are exposed for all to see. We've seen the cost of dangerous, ill-regulated, revenue driven industries: human life and the earth. Too many industries are examples of historical insensitivity, ignorance, and greed. Now is the time to learn from history, not only in terms of how to cope and adapt to this pandemic, but also in terms of how to treat each other. Are we caretakers of each other and the earth? Or exploiters, manipulators, and abusers?
Cannabis cannot become the latter, especially when it is a life-changing force for good. We work in this industry because we care about the health and well-being of others. We have pride in what we do and work hard to build our knowledge and skill sets to give our patients and clients the best service and products available. Yet in the last several months, it has become clear that GTI is more concerned about profits and margins than the health and well-being of its workers, patients, clients, and communities they operate in.
In regard to our union petition for election, GTI continued to interfere and undermine our right to a free union election. The company continued to appeal our petition with the National Labor Relations Board by stating we have more employees than we have. They transferred employees from other dispensaries and counted them as staff in order to make it seem we don't have the majority vote. Similar to the union drive at our Rock Island facility back in the Fall/Winter 2019, GTI has not remained neutral and instead chosen to interfere in our right to a free union election.
GTI operates in 12 states and counting. The company manufactures, distributes, and markets its products (under brands such as Rythm, Dogwalkers, The Feel Collection, and Incredibles) to dispensaries in each of these states. On April 23rd, during the Q&A session with our staff, Ben Kovler said he was disappointed with us for wanting to form a union. He asked us why we did not communicate our concerns with management and recommended we keep using the open line of communication to address our issues. His assertion that we have not been communicating with management and corporate is false. As stated in our petition, we have communicated our concerns and issues regarding COVID-19 for months, along with all other issues pertaining to our well-being and fair compensation. The fact remains that our concerns have been ignored and side-stepped by GTI management and corporate.
As workers we are not disposable or easily replaceable. We are the face and heart, the hands and feet of GTI. And we want to be respected and related with as such. We are human beings with dignity and worth. This is about right relationships. This is about boundaries and self-love. This is about having an equal say in the agreements we make with GTI and with each other on how we want to be related with at our place of work. It is not enough to simply have "jobs", we want life-supporting, life-respecting jobs and careers. The cannabis industry should not be another industry that unnecessarily exposes its workers to dangerous working conditions, toxic work environments, and compensates us with wages that leave us surviving paycheck to paycheck.
Ben Kovler's compensation in 2018 and 2019 was as such:
- Total compensation in 2018: $1,648,862. Broken down into: $312,185 salary; $241,400 bonus; $1,070,277 stock compensation; and $25,000 for attending Board of Director meetings.
- Total compensation in 2019: $3,915,943. Broken down into: $295,000 salary; $400,000 bonus; $3,168,000 stock compensation; and $52,943 Board of Director payment.
The total compensation listed here does not include the yearly revenue that Ben Kovler makes on buildings that he and other members of the Board of Directors own and lease to GTI. Or the yearly revenue made on payments to GTI's loyalty and digital communications platform, Spring Big, which is also owned by Ben Kovler and several members of the Board of Directors. Furthermore, because the majority of GTI's voting shares are currently owned by three of its senior executives (Ben Kovler, Andrew Grossman, and Anthony Georgiadis) there really is not a Board of Directors but a Board directed by GTI corporate. This concentrated voting power allows GTI to determine the actual outcome of any and all matters submitted to shareholders for approval or support, including compensation.
GTI prides itself on operating in "limited supply oligopolistic markets" in which cannabis is legalized but where there can only be a limited number of producers. Now that adult use cannabis sales are legal in Illinois, here is an idea of what 2020 revenue for GTI will look like:
- GTI's Rise store in Mundelein had approximately $30,000 to $50,000 in sales each day as a medical cannabis store. Since adult-use sales became legal on January 1, 2020, Mundelein daily sales now average $200,000 to $250,000. Subtract 60% in Illinois taxes and that is still $100,000 to $150,000 in revenue each day.
That is a triple increase in revenue. In 7 going on 10 stores. Today’s earnings report for first quarter 2020 just proved this. Medical cannabis and adult-use sales will make billionaires out of GTI corporate, and keep workers hoping to afford life week to week. In 2018, Ben Kovler made more than we make in one year's wages (less than $25,000) just by attending Board of Director meetings.
All of GTI's revenue is made off the backs and pockets of the company's workers, patients, and clients. And if we get sick with COVID-19, it is considered an acceptable loss.
As GTI staff, we deeply care about each other and what we do at our facilities. We have come to know and love each other along with so many of our patients and clients. All of our recent organizing efforts have all been done with you all in our heart and mind. We are passionate about sticking together to make our clinics and stores a safe and healthy place to work and visit. Please continue to spread our message and petition. It is a labor of love. We do not believe that the cannabis industry has to be run in this way. We believe GTI corporate and management can do better and we ask that you help us hold them to it. Please contact them at the numbers and emails listed below to express your support for our collective requests.
We are calling on GTI corporate and management to commit to:
- Curbside-only sales at all our stores and clinics, along with all other proper health and safety measures in response to the dangerous COVID-19 pandemic. Workers continue to be exposed to the risk of worker-to-worker transmission. One mask per employee is distributed every five days, and social distancing inside dispensaries is not adequately enforced or modeled by management. With the addition of 9 new employees along with 3 transfers, GTI is not only hoping to undermine our collective organizing, the company is also putting us at a much higher risk for worker-to-worker transmission. Our workspace is extremely small and cannot safely accommodate the requirements of social distancing.
- Transparency and effective communication.
- Fairness and respect in all areas of work and processes. GTI agreed we would be able to administer bi-annual reviews for management and they failed to deliver on their promise. Instead GTI chose to cut our raises and discounts, put our promotions on hold, and promote profits and margins over our requests for fairness and respect in our workplace.
- A more just and equal compensation for the physical/emotional/intellectual labor and time we put in. We deserve the same incentives and benefits that GTI corporate and management receives. We have not received stock compensation or fair wages/salary/bonus for our labor and time.
- An equal voice on the job especially for decisions that affect workers and patients/clients. GTI's rhetoric is that there are thousands of people who want to work in this industry, therefore they believe they don't have to treat us justly and can replace us easily. We are more than an expense, and we have an equal stake in the decisions and policies that affect us.
- Staff development and support. Fair and just hiring practices and promotions. We want more diversity and inclusion in our workplace. As well as more social equity when it comes to hiring.
- Conflict resolution processes such as talking circles and workshops.
- The fair and just distribution of profits already being made, without raising prices for products and medicines.
- Due processes in the workplace and mediation practices instead of GTI management and corporate firing and harassing employees for things such as personal feelings and popularity.
- Protections against sexual harassment, intimidation, racism, discrimination, violence, and bullying. Management continues to scapegoat and single out employees to bully, mistreat, antagonize, and terminate. When employees speak out and request changes they are ignored, gas-lighted, and retaliated against.
- Consistent and fair policies: full-time status is granted to employees via a process that is irrational and unfair. GTI is unwilling to designate employees full-time status because full-time employees receive paid time off (PTO), health, and retirement benefits. The company would rather keep employees without these benefits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, GTI granted 48 hrs of PTO (that have to be paid back) to only full-time employees, even though part-time employees work full-time hours and need the same protections and benefits.
- We want GTI to enter into an agreement with us that safeguards our rights, health, and dramatically improves our standard of living. There is no such thing as unskilled labor, just low-paid jobs, low-respected employees, unjustly compensated labor, and unnecessarily dangerous jobs.
- We want measures in place that afford us healthy, happy, and secure lives so we can thrive. We don't want another industry that leaves workers, our families, and our communities living with the realities and generational effects of physical and socioeconomic insecurities, just struggling to survive.
- Finally, we want GTI to remain neutral and respect our right to fair and free union elections. Due to GTI’s illegal interference, the UFCW withdrew our petition for a union election. We will not be deterred and will continue our efforts to unionize and improve our workplace.
We want to unionize because GTI has clearly shown us during this most serious pandemic of COVID-19 that they will prioritize profit over human needs. GTI has prioritized unlimited growth, profits, and revenue over the health, safety, well-being, and fair compensation of its workers. GTI has also prioritized their profits and revenue over the health, safety, and well-being of our patients and communities. We have no one to turn to except ourselves, and that is to unionize. GTI corporate and management, along with Human Resources (HR) have proven to us that they will prioritize GTI's bottom line every time, before anything and anyone. It took an organized work stoppage, reports to OSHA, a union drive, and this public petition to pressure GTI to agree to curbside-only service, to start providing us with PPE, and to include us in our company-wide call center as a resource during COVID-19. It took almost two months of direct organizing and pressure.
As stated in our introduction, GTI corporate has proven again and again to say one thing and do another. The company continues to project a public image of being the best place to work, with happy, safe, respected, and well-compensated employees. While at the retail level, us workers experience a completely different reality. If GTI corporate truly feels that we are heroes and exceptional, we want them to make their actions match their words.
We are making it clear that our efforts are not against anyone. Our efforts are FOR the benefit of everyone. We realize that GTI has hired consultants to undermine our organizing and union drive. We are aware that the more our managers try and help us, GTI punishes them and reminds them that everything they have can be taken away. It is a tactic to make us as workers compete with each other and fight each other. We are not falling for this manipulation and abuse.
We do not wish to stop now and accept our toxic work environment and conditions. We will continue to exercise our right to collective action as workers to protect and promote our well-being and that of our patients and clients. GTI corporate cannot and will not guarantee this unless it enters into a union contract with us. Nothing about us, without us, is for us.
We thank you again for all your love and support,
3C Naperville Workers in Unity for Safety for All
**Please follow us on social media and help spread our message: www.facebook.com/GTINaperville
**Contact Information for GTI Corporate and Management:
Ben Kovler (CEO) Phone: 312-664-5050 and 415-609-2629 Email:email@example.com
Brendan Blume (Market President-IL) Phone: 773-706-7517 Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Derrick Levy (District Manager) Phone: 303-726-6982 Email:email@example.com
Gregory Zeman (Store Manager-3C Naperville) Phone: 630-460-9311 Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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