Union workers hold one-day strike at Greenleaf in Portsmouth

Charge that employee was fired in retaliation for union activities

By Jim McGaw
Posted 6/30/21

PORTSMOUTH — Holding signs reading “Unfair Labor Practices,” “Justice for Ben” and “Respect Workers’ Rights,” about 25 to 30 union workers …

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Union workers hold one-day strike at Greenleaf in Portsmouth

Charge that employee was fired in retaliation for union activities

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Holding signs reading “Unfair Labor Practices,” “Justice for Ben” and “Respect Workers’ Rights,” about 25 to 30 union workers picketed outside the Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center Saturday to protest what they perceive as retaliatory practices by CEO Seth Bock.

Things came to a head on Wednesday, June 23, when Ben Telford, a member of the union negotiating committee, was fired “with no just cause, no due process,” according to Sam Marvin, director of organizing at UFCW Local 328, which represents most of the workers at the medicinal cannabis dispensary. The union claims he was fired illegally, and it’s demanding his reinstatement.

“He never even gave him a reason when he fired him,” said Mr. Marvin, who isn’t employed at Greenleaf. “The workers have said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and they’re out here today for a one-day strike to draw attention to the retaliatory practices of the CEO.”

(The Portsmouth Times tried unsuccessfully to reach Dr. Bock for comment by phone and e-mail. We will update this story if we hear back from him.)

About 40 people work at Greenleaf. Of those, 25 to 30 joined the union, which was formulated in April after a vote the previous month. The rest of the employees are supervisors or managers.

As picketers marched next to West Main Road and the top of John Street, some vehicles beeped in support of their efforts. Patients who pulled up were explained the situation by a manager. Some chose to go inside to pick up their order, while others chose to come back another day or visited a different dispensary.

One worker told a patient they were striking because a worker was fired illegally. “Go inside and ask them why Ben was fired,” he said. 

That would be Ben Telford, who showed up to watch his former co-workers have his back.

“It’s humbling,” he said. “It’s great to see the support. It’s just sort of a reminder that we’re all in this together.”

Mr. Telford couldn’t share specifics about the reasons for his termination “because there’s an open case with it,” he said.

“I can say I was told directly that my services were no longer required, but our union representation has been told something else,” said Mr. Telford, whose job entailed general day-to-day duties at the dispensary. “So, I’m not exactly sure. I’m looking for find more clear answers, but it seems as if it’s retaliatory, based on my union involvement and activities — being part of the bargaining committee. I’ve been very, very active (in the union). I’ve been a large force behind it.”

Loss of benefits

Parker Terrell is a “budtender” who was hired at Greenleaf about a year ago. He’s also a member of the union negotiating committee. He said the one-day strike was a culmination of a “series” of events. 

“Seth had started to make really drastic cuts in terms of our middle management — people who were really respected within the industry,” he said. “And, as we started seeing change, prices had increased. The feel of the store just changed. It was under the guise of recreational (cannabis) maybe coming down the pipeline, but in our view, we’re still a medicinal facility.”

Workers tried to have conversations with management about the changes they were seeing, but they weren’t being heard, Mr. Terrell said. 

“On top of that our benefits got cut, so we lost our employee incentive; we were paying full price on medicine. I receive an industry discount at any other dispensary, so I’m paying more here. During negotiations, he had brought back a 20-percent discount, but excluded everybody from the bargaining unit,” he said.

The strike, he insisted, was nothing personal. Workers are professionals who love their jobs and their patients, he said.

“We want to run a great dispensary. We wanted to work together and change that shift in balance and power and have more of a voice here and feel respected. We want this to be a community conversation,” said Mr. Terrell, adding he’s optimistic a fair resolution will be reached. “We’re going back tomorrow. We want to negotiate fairly. If we’re gonna keep getting pushed, we have to do something.”

Mr. Telford said it’s not just about getting workers a fair contract. 

“We want to bring the focus back to the patients; that’s really what this is about. This is about us as workers, getting a fair contract, but it’s also about fair and safe medicine being easily accessible to patients.”

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