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Former Ann Arbor dispensary employees sue, claiming wrongful termination

Lisa Conine pickets with others outside Om of Medicine in downtown Ann Arbor on Oct. 16, 2020.
Lisa Conine pickets with others outside Om of Medicine in downtown Ann Arbor on Oct. 16, 2020. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBORStory update: The National Labor Relations Board dismissed all three lawsuits mentioned below in early December, 2020.

The effort of Om of Medicine employees to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union failed after it didn’t garner enough votes and the union withdrew its petition, according to Om of Medicine management.

Three former employees at Om of Medicine have filed wrongful termination claims as their colleagues still working at the dispensary attempt to unionize.

Lisa Conine, Brianna Worthing and Ana Gomulka said they were fired on Sept. 23 after bringing concerns to their managers about racial equity and new profit-driven policies.

Om of Medicine was acquired two years ago by multistate cannabis operator 4Front Ventures. Conine, Om’s community outreach coordinator, said that staff were initially told that 4Front would preserve Om’s mission in serving the community, but at some point things began to change.

“As time went on, a lot of changes were made within the corporate leadership, and the values were changed to only being operations-focused on revenue and profits increasing and less value being placed on the type of work we did within the community unless it immediately showed profit,” said Conine.

“That was very challenging for a lot of us who were very passionate about this work and this movement.”

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Over the years, Om of Medicine has been a local leader in cannabis research with the University of Michigan and has been central in organizing Ann Arbor’s annual Hash Bash and recruiting local, state and federal politicians to speak at the event. Om is also active in giving back to the community, and has been a top local donor to Food Gatherers since 2013.

Beyond becoming increasingly revenue-focused, Conine said the issue of racial awareness at Om arose when a black employee was asked to make a delivery to Howell.

“He didn’t feel comfortable driving out there ... and he turned around and came home,” said Conine. “They didn’t have any awareness of why that might feel dangerous to him and they sent him to deliver anyway. That incident really highlighted the need for more training with our leadership at Om and conversations with management around Black Lives Matter.”

A group of employees began meeting outside of work to discuss the changes they’d like to see at Om and at the corporate level.

“We had various discussions with upper management in regards to how their lack of initiatives, lack of addressing racial problems in the industry and the company itself were impacting their black and brown employees and how -- over time -- not even being able to acknowledge that black lives matter at the corporate level, led to a lot of our black and brown employees feeling very unsafe,” said Worthing.

In response, Om’s employees began the effort to unionize with the United Food Workers' cannabis division.

Things came to a head when the group brought a letter to upper management on Sept. 23 to recognize the union and go to the bargaining table.

On that same day, Conine, Worthing and Gomulka were told that their positions were no longer needed and were fired.

Om of Medicine at 111 S. Main St. in downtown Ann Arbor. (Meredith Bruckner)

“When they terminated me, they tried to tell me that I had to leave out the back door with an escort,” said Conine. “I refused, stating that this place had been my home for the last four years and I refused to be treated that way. I gathered my things and took my time and went out the front door. That was definitely painful.”

“In my firing, they said they eliminated my position because I was advocating and educating regarding values that did not align with the mission’s goals and values,” said Worthing.

The shop abruptly closed for the rest of the day, resulting in a picket by the three women and some current Om employees outside its Main St. location.

When A4 reached out to Om’s local management for comment, they said they cannot comment publicly on specific employment and HR matters while legal proceedings are ongoing.

However, 4Front provided the following statement about the situation:

"Om of Medicine is committed to a fair, open, transparent work environment taking into account the needs of our employees and customers.

"Furthermore, at Om, since our founding, we have always been a pro-employee organization. To that end, we have had begun the formal process of a fair and secret ballot election before the NLRB, allowing our employees to decide whether they choose union membership. We will respect the results of a fair and secret ballot election on the question as to whether a union will represent our employees.

“We believe our employees can and do engage directly with our management team on employment-related issues. We believe our open-door relationship with employees has enabled us to have success and also allows us to respond directly to employee concerns and better serve our employees and customers.”

A union vote is set for Nov. 17.

“If Om is successful in unionizing, we’d be the first dispensary to unionize in the state of Michigan,” said Conine.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.