ANN ARBOR, MI — Former employees of a downtown Ann Arbor marijuana dispensary say managers fired them for speaking up against racial injustice and attempting to unionize.
Ana Gomulka, former social equity program coordinator, and Lisa Conine, former community outreach coordinator, attempted to have conversations with Om of Medicine managers on improvements amid the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck during an arrest.
The two asked managers to make a public statement about the movement, but Gomulka said they instead sent employees an email.
The two were later fired and immediately filed for wrongful termination through the National Labor Relations Board, Gomulka and Conine confirmed.
However, Om of Medicine co-founder Mark Passerini denies violating anyone’s rights.
“Om of Medicine categorically denies engaging in any activity that violates employees’ rights under the NLRA,” Passerini said in a statement. “Om of Medicine is also committed to equal employment opportunity, treating everyone fairly and maintaining an environment free of discrimination, harassment and intimidation,”
Employees picketed outside of the dispensary on Wednesday, Sept. 23, to stand “for real justice in this industry” and support the terminated employees, Gomulka said.
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“They tried intimidating us for speaking up against racism,” said Gomulka, who identifies as a multicultural Black person. “We know the cannabis industry. Over 85% of owners of cannabis, especially in our state, are white. It was very shocking they promoted me in this position and wouldn’t let me do my work.”
The reaction also shocked Conine, she said, as Om of Medicine is a known “trailblazer and taking a stance on everything” in the community.
“That was really disheartening with all of us, Conine said. “That hasn’t been our experience at Om of Medicine,”
Previous social media posts indicate the company stands against police brutality toward communities of color and note social inequities in the cannabis industry, citing people of color often are made as victims of mass incarceration and in constant fear of law enforcement.
Passerini said he and the “Omies” pride themselves in cannabis education, reform and helping communities “right the wrongs caused from cannabis prohibition by seeking out opportunities to lift up those harmed by the war on cannabis.”
“Om of Medicine’s three core principles have been central to our mission,” Passerini said in a statement. “First, serve our patients and customers with quality cannabis products in a safe and responsible manner. Second, provide our Omies, a fair, safe, and respectful workplace. Third, focus our advocacy efforts on one goal: to replace prohibition with opportunity so that our patients and consumers can safely learn about and procure cannabis for healing and responsible use,
“To achieve this, we have always had an open-door policy to all community members, including elected officials, community leaders, and law enforcement. Working together, we have kept our patients safe to access their medicine with no issues for over a decade.”
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Issues escalated when Gomulka and Conine sought to unionize after Mission Dispensaries acquired Om of Medicine in 2019 to secure wages, benefits and more, Conine said.
After presenting managers with a letter of recognition for the union, Gomulka and Conine were told their positions would be eliminated because they no longer align with the company.
“I’ve never gotten any official discipline. It was all verbal and it was more of discouraging me from speaking up and trying to tell me that I wasn’t doing it effectively,” Conine said. “I was never ever told that I was doing anything wrong with my job duties.”
The company does not comment on personnel related matters, but Passerini said decisions are consistent with their mission.
“Last week, a group of employees presented our company with a demand that our company recognize a third-party union as the exclusive bargaining agent for negotiating over the terms and conditions of employment,” Passerini said in a statement. “We believe these are important issues and that all Omies should be given the opportunity to participate in a free and fair election under the National Labor Relations Act.”
Gomulka is continuing to advocate for an equitable industry through Michigan Cannabis Workers Rising.
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