The designation of cannabis workers as either agricultural or manufacturer workers is at the heart of a legal battle in St. Louis. The workers of BeLeaf Medical have been told to wait on an appeal before counting the votes they placed on a decision to unionize. They had previously said they had the legal right to do so, but the appeal has delayed them once again.

The drama surrounding BeLeaf Medical’s potential unionization of its employees began in September when they first filed their petition to unionize. At that time, BeLeaf argued to the National Labor Relations Board that its employees were agricultural workers, not manufacturer workers, and therefore not protected under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. The act is the federal document that protects the right of employees to “seek better working conditions and designation of representation without fear of retaliation.”

The Board initially decided against BeLeaf, a finding that was issued on January 25. The 13-page decision explained in detail why BeLeaf’s employees were not counted as agricultural workers and could, therefore, unionize.

Following this decision, BeLeaf’s employees gathered at the Barr branch of the St. Louis Public Library on the afternoon of February 6 to cast votes on the decision to unionize. Minutes before 5 p.m., when the votes were set to be counted, BeLeaf’s director of Human Resources, Marilyn Gleason, intervened. Reportedly under advice from an attorney, Gleason informed those gathered that BeLeaf was continuing to challenge that 11 of the 16 gathered employees did not have the right to unionize.

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Todd Rick, a post-harvest specialist at the time of the vote, said, “I just could not believe they were doing it. But, at the same time, I wasn’t surprised at all.” It has been reported that Rick, one of the effort’s leaders who testified before the Board in October, was fired not long after the vote.

Rick described that near the end of one February shift, he was called into Gleason’s office and suspended with pay, but he was then fired over the phone before he could even get to his car to drive home. Rick, who said he felt he was targeted for his unionization efforts, filed a complaint with the Board.

Testimonies like Rick’s were key to determining whether or not BeLeaf’s employees should be designated as agricultural workers. According to the Board’s January decision, the company’s product preparation utilized “industrialized processes to transform the marijuana from its natural state into finished products prepared for sale,” and none of the post-harvest employees “engaged in primary agricultural activities.” Because they work in a different department than cultivation and harvest, and there is no overlap in duties, the Board decided they should not be classified as agricultural workers.

The challenged ballots have been placed in a sealed envelope pending the Board’s review of its previous decision. For now, the decision to reconsider the designation falls upon the same official who gave the all-clear for the unionization vote to go forward in the first place, though nothing should be taken for granted.