Job training program, hiring mandate proposed for cannabis industry

Disadvantaged workers in San Francisco could get training for jobs in the cannabis industry under a proposed government program that would require businesses to hire the graduates.

The program, dubbed CityGrow, is modeled after CityBuild, an existing government program overseen by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, that provides training for disadvantaged residents to land jobs in the construction industry.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai introduced the legislation last week for “advancing workforce equity.”

He told the San Francisco Examiner Tuesday that the intent is “to make sure everyday San Franciscans are able to take advantage of these opportunities.”

He noted that when the Board of Supervisors approved regulations for recreational cannabis late last year that became legal this year under Proposition 64 there was an understanding proposals would follow related to the industry’s workforce.

Under existing rules, city cannabis permits for businesses with 10 or more workers are required to have a Labor Peace Agreement or collective bargaining agreement. Safai’s legislation would add a requirement that the cannabis business must “agree that 35 percent of its new hires shall be graduates of apprenticeship programs” under CityGrow.

The legislation is contingent upon the state certifying apprenticeship programs, which Safai said is “in the works.” He anticipates the state certifying an apprenticeship program for cultivation, and his proposal would ensure The City is ready to launch a pre-apprenticeship program and require the hiring. Other programs could follow, including for packaging, retail and transport.

The state’s Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees apprenticeship programs, was unable to provide information about the status of cannabis apprenticeship programs by press time.

Certified apprenticeship programs carry such rules as starting wages and benefits as well as step increases for hours worked, and are being pushed by several labor unions.

The Office of Economic and Workforce Development would administer the program, as it does CityBuild, by helping to recruit participants and filing necessary paperwork. Pre-apprenticeship training is expected to last weeks. A partnership of labor unions and employers would determine the curriculum. The cannabis businesses would hire from this pool of graduates to work apprenticeships to meet the proposed hiring requirement.

The City does mandate local hiring for construction projects, which helps graduates of CityBuild obtain employment. OEWD offers other job training programs, such as in the tech and hospitality sector, but there are no industry hiring mandates related to training in these fields. Some have argued The City should have hiring mandates for the tech sector similar to construction.

Aaron Flynn, of the San Francisco Chapter of the California Growers Association, said Tuesday, “It’s a very new proposal. We’re still digesting it.”

Flynn said that businesses could benefit from “getting employees who are already trained” but raised concerns over having to deal with an additional mandate at a time when the industry is just six months old.

“We would prefer to be able to do it voluntarily,” Flynn said. “It simply is another mandate. We feel like we have a lot of these coming at us right now.”

SEE RELATED: SF cannabis tax moves closer to ballot despite industry opposition

Safai said voluntary hiring was off the table because that would make it “harder to implement.”

“It’s not a difficult mandate for the industry to meet,” Safai said, adding that he was willing to discuss adjusting the percentage.

Vince Courtney, a leader of the Laborer’s International (LIUNA) Local 261, told the Examiner Tuesday he supports Safai’s legislation and said it “may lead to actual equity for individuals from communities decimated for years by the failed war on drugs.”

“We have been disappointed in the City to this point” for focusing largely on “economic development and ownership interests while placing little, if any attention on the workforce components or appropriate labor standards within the [cannabis] industry,” Courtney said.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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